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The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Airlords of Han, by Philip Francis Nowlan

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Title: The Airlords of Han

Author: Philip Francis Nowlan

Illustrator: Frank R. Paul

Release Date: May 11, 2008 [EBook #25438]
[Most recently updated: August 27, 2008]

Language: English


*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE AIRLORDS OF HAN ***




Produced by Greg Weeks, Stephen Blundell and the Online
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Transcriber's Note:

    This etext was produced from _Amazing Stories Fact and Science
    Fiction_ May 1962 and was first published in _Amazing Stories_ March
    1929. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.
    copyright on this publication was renewed. Minor spelling and
    typographical errors have been corrected without note. A table of
    contents has been provided below:

         I. The Airlords Besieged
        II. The "Ground Ships" Threaten
       III. We "Sink" the "Ground Ships"
        IV. Han Electrono-Ray Science
         V. American Ultronic Science
        VI. An Unequal Duel
       VII. Captured!
      VIII. Hypnotic Torture
        IX. The Fall of Nu-Yok
         X. Life in Lo-Tan, the Magnificent
        XI. The Forest Men Attack
       XII. The Mysterious "Air Balls"
      XIII. Escape!
       XIV. The Destruction of Lo-Tan
        XV. The Counter-Attack
       XVI. Victory




[Illustration: A Classic Reprint from AMAZING STORIES, March, 1929]




_The AIRLORDS of HAN_

By PHILIP FRANCIS NOWLAN


Illustrated by FRANK R. PAUL

_Copyright, 1927, by E. P. Co., Inc._




CHAPTER I

The Airlords Besieged


In a previous record of my adventures in the early part of the Second
War of Independence I explained how I, Anthony Rogers, was overcome by
radioactive gases in an abandoned mine near Scranton in the year 1927,
where I existed in a state of suspended animation for nearly five
hundred years; and awakened to find that the America I knew had been
crushed under the cruel tyranny of the Airlords of Han, fierce
Mongolians, who, as scientists now contend, had in their blood a taint
not of this earth, and who with science and resources far in advance of
those of a United States, economically prostrate at the end of a long
series of wars with a Bolshevik Europe, in the year 2270 A.D., had swept
down from the skies in their great airships that rode "repeller rays" as
a ball rides the stream of a fountain, and with their terrible
"disintegrator rays" had destroyed more than four-fifths of the American
race, and driven the other fifth to cover in the vast forests which grew
up over the remains of the once mighty civilization of the United
States.

I explained the part I played in the fall of the year 2419, when the
rugged Americans, with science secretly developed to terrific efficiency
in their forest fastness, turned fiercely and assumed the aggressive
against a now effete Han population, which for generations had shut
itself up in the fifteen great Mongolian cities of America, having
abandoned cultivation of the soil and the operation of mines; for these
Hans produced all they needed in the way of food, clothing, shelter and
machinery through electrono-synthetic processes.

I explained how I was adopted into the Wyoming Gang, or clan,
descendants of the original populations of Wilkes-Barre, Scranton and
the Wyoming Valley in Pennsylvania; how quite by accident I stumbled
upon a method of destroying Han aircraft by shooting explosive rockets,
not directly at the heavily armored ships, but at the repeller ray
columns, which automatically drew the rockets upward where they exploded
in the generators of the aircraft; how the Wyomings threw the first
thrill of terror into the Airlords by bringing an entire squadron
crashing to earth; how a handful of us in a rocketship successfully
raided the Han city of Nu-Yok; and how by the application of military
principles I remembered from the First World War, I was able to lead the
Wyomings to victory over the Sinsings, a Hudson River tribe which had
formed a traitorous alliance with the hereditary enemies and oppressors
of the White Race in America.

       *       *       *       *       *

By the Spring of 2420 A.D., a short six months after these events, the
positions of the Yellow and the White Races in America had been
reversed. The hunted were now the hunters. The Hans desperately were
increasing the defenses of their fifteen cities, around each of which
the American Gangs had drawn a widely deployed line of long-gunners;
while nervous air convoys, closely bunched behind their protective
screen of disintegrator beams, kept up sporadic and costly systems of
transportation between the cities.

During this period our own campaign against the Hans of Nu-Yok was
fairly typical of the development of the war throughout the country. Our
force was composed of contingents from most of the Gangs of
Pennsylvania, Jersey and New England. We encircled the city on a wide
radius, our line running roughly from Staten Island to the forested site
of the ancient city of Elizabeth, to First and Second Mountains just
west of the ruins of Newark, Bloomfield and Montclair, thence
northeasterly across the Hudson, and down to the Sound. On Long Island
our line was pushed forward to the first slopes of the hills.

We had no more than four long-gunners to the square mile in our first
line, but each of these was equal to a battery of heavy artillery such
as I had known in the First World War. And when their fire was first
concentrated on the Han city, they blew its outer walls and roof levels
into a chaotic mass of wreckage before the nervous Yellow engineers
could turn on the ring of generators which surrounded the city with a
vertical film of disintegrator rays. Our explosive rockets could not
penetrate this film, for it disintegrated them instantly and harmlessly,
as it did all other material substance with the sole exception of
"inertron," that synthetic element developed by the Americans from the
sub-electronic and ultronic orders.

       *       *       *       *       *

The continuous operation of the disintegrators destroyed the air and
maintained a constant vacuum wherever they played, into which the
surrounding air continuously rushed, naturally creating atmospheric
disturbances after a time, which resulted in a local storm. This,
however, ceased after a number of hours, when the flow of air toward the
city became steady.

The Hans suffered severely from atmospheric conditions inside their city
at first, but later rearranged their disintegrator ring in a system of
overlapping films that left diagonal openings, through which the air
rushed to them, and through which their ships emerged to scout our
positions.

We shot down seven of their cruisers before they realized the folly of
floating individually over our invisible line. Their beams traced paths
of destruction like scars across the countryside, but caught less than
half a dozen of our gunners all told, for it takes a lot of time to
sweep every square foot of a square mile with a beam whose cross section
is not more than twenty or twenty-five feet in diameter. Our gunners,
completely concealed beneath the foliage of the forest, with weapons
which did not reveal their position, as did the flashes and detonation
of the Twentieth Century artillery, hit their repeller rays with
comparative ease.

The "drop ships," which the Hans next sent out, were harder to handle.
Rising to immense heights behind the city's disintegrator wall, these
tiny, projectile-like craft slipped through the rifts in the cylinder of
destruction, and then turning off their repeller rays, dropped at
terrific speed until their small vanes were sufficient to support them
as they volplaned in great circles, shooting back into the city defenses
at a lower level.

The great speed of these craft made it almost impossible to register a
direct hit against them with rocket guns, and they had no repeller rays
at which we might shoot while they were over our lines.

But by the same token they were able to do little damage to us. So great
was the speed of a drop ship, that the only way in which it could use a
disintegrator ray was from a fixed generator in the nose of the
structure, as it dropped in a straight line toward its target. But since
they could not sight the widely deployed individual gunners in our line,
their scouting was just as ineffective as our attempts were to shoot
them down.

       *       *       *       *       *

For more than a month the situation remained a deadlock, with the Hans
locked up in their cities, while we mobilized gunners and supplies.

Had our stock of inertron been sufficiently great at this period, we
could have ended the war quickly, with aircraft impervious to the "dis"
ray. But the production of inertron is a painfully slow process,
involving the building up of this weightless element from ultronic
vibrations through the sub-electronic, electronic and atomic states into
molecular form. Our laboratories had barely begun production on a
quantity basis, for we had just learned how to protect them from Han air
raids, and it would be many months more before the supply they had just
started to manufacture would be finished. In the meantime we had enough
for a few aircraft, for jumping belts and a small amount of armor.

We Wyomings possessed one swooper completely sheathed with inertron and
counterweighted with ultron. The Altoonas and the Lycomings also had
one apiece. But a shielded swooper, while impervious to the "dis" ray,
was helpless against squadrons of Han aircraft, for the Hans developed a
technique of playing their beams underneath the swooper in such fashion
as to suck it down flutteringly into the vacuum so created, until they
brought it finally, and more or less violently, to earth.

Ultimately the Hans broke our blockade to a certain extent, when they
resumed traffic between their cities in great convoys, protected by
squadrons of cruisers in vertical formation, playing a continuous
cross-fire of disintegrator beams ahead of them and down on the sides in
a most effective screen, so that it was very difficult for us to get a
rocket through to the repeller rays.

But we lined the scar paths beneath their air routes for miles at a
stretch with concealed gunners, some of whom would sooner or later
register hits, and it was seldom that a convoy made the trip between
Nu-Yok and Bos-Tan, Bah-Flo, Si-ka-ga or Ah-la-nah without losing
several of its ships.

Hans who reached the ground alive were never taken prisoner. Not even
the splendid discipline of the Americans could curb the wild hate
developed through centuries of dastardly oppression, and the Hans were
mercilessly slaughtered, when they did not save us the trouble by
committing suicide.

Several times the Hans drove "air wedges" over our lines in this
vertical or "cloud bank" formation, ploughing a scar path a mile or more
wide through our positions. But at worst, to us, this did not mean the
loss of more than a dozen men and girls, and generally their raids cost
them one or more ships. They cut paths of destruction across the map,
but they could not cover the entire area, and when they had ploughed out
over our lines, there was nothing left for them to do but to turn around
and plough back to Nu-Yok. Our lines closed up again after each raid,
and we continued to take heavy toll from convoys and raiding fleets.
Finally they abandoned these tactics.

So at the time of which I speak, the Spring of 2420 A.D., the Americans
and the Hans were temporarily at pretty much of a deadlock. But the Hans
were as desperate as we were sanguine, for we had time on our side.

It was at this period that we first learned of the Airlords'
determination, a very unpopular one with their conscripted populations,
to carry the fight to us on the ground. The time had passed when
command of the air meant victory. We had no visible cities nor massed
bodies of men for them to destroy, nothing but vast stretches of silent
forests and hills, where our forces lurked, invisible from the air.




CHAPTER II

The "Ground Ships" Threaten


One of our Wyoming girls, on contact guard near Pocono, blundered into a
hunting camp of the Bad Bloods, one of the renegade American Gangs,
which occupied the Blue Mountain section north of Delaware Water Gap. We
had not invited their cooperation in this campaign, for they were under
some suspicion of having trafficked with the Hans in past years, but
they had offered no objection to our passage through their territory in
our advance on Nu-Yok.

Fortunately our contact guard had been able to leap into the upper
branches of a tree without being discovered by the Bad Bloods, for their
discipline was lax and their guard careless. She overheard enough of the
conversation of their Bosses around the camp fire beneath her to
indicate the general nature of the Han plans.

After several hours she was able to leap away unobserved through the
topmost branches of the trees, and after putting several miles between
herself and their camp, she ultrophoned a full report to her Contact
Boss back in the Wyoming Valley. My own Ultrophone Field Boss picked up
the message and brought the graph record of it to me at once.

Her report was likewise picked up by the Bosses of the various Gang
units in our line, and we had called a council to discuss our plans by
word of mouth.

We were gathered in a sheltered glade on the eastern slope of First
Mountain on a balmy night in May. Far to the east, across the forested
slopes of the lowlands, the flat stretches of open meadow and the rocky
ridge that once had been Jersey City, the iridescent glow of Nu-Yok's
protecting film of annihilation shot upward, gradually fading into a
starry sky.

In the faint glow of our ultronolamps, I made out the great figure and
rugged features of Boss Casaman, commander of the Mifflin unit, and the
gray uniform of Boss Warn, who led the Sandsnipers of the Barnegat
Beaches, and who had swooped over from his headquarters on Sandy Hook.
By his side stood Boss Handan of the Winslows, a Gang from Central
Jersee. In the group also were the leaders of the Altoonas, the
Camerons, the Lycomings, Susquannas, Harshbargs, Hagersduns, Chesters,
Reddings, Delawares, Elmirans, Kiugas, Hudsons and Connedigas.

       *       *       *       *       *

Most of them were clad in forest-green uniforms that showed black at
night, but each had some distinctive badge or item of uniform or
equipment that distinguished his Gang.

Both the Mifflin and Altoona Bosses, for instance, wore heavy-looking
boots with jointed knees. They came from sections that were not only
mountainous, but rocky, where "leaping" involves many a slip and bruised
limb, unless some protection of this sort is worn. But these boots were
not as heavy as they looked, being counter-balanced somewhat with
inertron.

The headgear of the Winslows was quite different from the close-fitting
helmet of the Wyomings, being large and bushy-looking, for in the
Winslow territory there were many stretches of nearly bare land, with
occasional scrubby pines, and a Winslow caught in the open, on the
approach of a Han airship, would twist himself into a motionless
imitation of a scrubby plant, that passed very successfully for the real
thing, when viewed from several thousand feet in the air.

The Susquannas had a unit that was equipped with inertron shields, that
were of the same shape as those of the ancient Romans, but much larger,
and capable of concealing their bearers from head to foot when they
crouched slightly. These shields, of course, were colored forest green,
and were irregularly shaded; they were balanced with inertron, so that
their effective weight was only a few ounces. They were curious too, in
that they had handles for both hands, and two small reservoir
rocket-guns built into them as integral parts.

In going into action, the Susquannas crouched slightly, holding the
shields before them with both hands, looking through a narrow vision
slit, and working both rocket guns. The shields, however, were a great
handicap in leaping, and in advancing through heavy forest growth.

The field unit of the Delawares was also heavily armored. It was one of
the most efficient bodies of shock troops in our entire line. They
carried circular shields, about three feet in diameter, with a vision
slit and a small rocket gun. These shields were held at arm's length in
the left hand on going into action. In the right hand was carried an
ax-gun, an affair not unlike the battle-ax of the Middle Ages. It was
about three feet long. The shaft consisted of a rocket gun, with an
ax-blade near the muzzle, and a spike at the other end. It was a
terrible weapon. Jointed leg-guards protected the ax-gunner below the
rim of his shield, and a hemispherical helmet, the front section of
which was of transparent ultron reaching down to the chin, completed his
equipment.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Susquannas also had a long-gun unit in the field.

One company of my Wyomings I had equipped with a weapon which I designed
myself. It was a long-gun which I had adapted for bayonet tactics such
as American troops used in the First World War, in the Twentieth
Century. It was about the length of the ancient rifle, and was fitted
with a short knife bayonet. The stock, however, was replaced by a narrow
ax-blade and a spike. It had two hand-guards also. It was fired from the
waist position.

In hand-to-hand work one lunged with the bayonet in a vicious, swinging
up-thrust, following through with an up-thrust of the ax-blade as one
rushed in on one's opponent, and then a down-thrust of the butt-spike,
developing into a down-slice of the bayonet, and a final upward jerk of
the bayonet at the throat and chin with a shortened grip on the barrel,
which had been allowed to slide through the hands at the completion of
the down-slice.

I almost regretted that we would not find ourselves opposed to the
Delaware ax-men in this campaign, so curious was I to compare the
efficiency of the two bodies.

But both the Delawares and my own men were elated at the news that the
Hans intended to fight it out on the ground at last, and the prospect
that we might in consequence come to close quarters with them.

Many of the Gang Bosses were dubious about our Wyoming policy of
providing our fighters with no inertron armor as protection against the
disintegrator ray of the Hans. Some of them even questioned the value of
all weapons intended for hand-to-hand fighting.

As Warn, of the Sandsnipers put it: "You should be in a better position
than anyone, Rogers, with your memories of the Twentieth Century, to
appreciate that between the superdeadliness of the rocket gun and of the
disintegrator ray there will never be any opportunity for hand-to-hand
work. Long before the opposing forces could come to grips, one or the
other will be wiped out."

But I only smiled, for I remembered how much of this same talk there was
five centuries ago, and that it was even predicted in 1914 that no war
could last more than six months.

       *       *       *       *       *

That there would be hand-to-hand work before we were through, and in
plenty, I was convinced, and so every able-bodied youth I could muster
was enrolled in my infantry battalion and spent most of his time in
vigorous bayonet practice. And for the same reason I had discarded the
idea of armor. I felt it would be clumsy, and questioned its value.
True, it was an absolute bar against the disintegrator ray, but of what
use would that be if a Han ray found a crevice between overlapping
plates, or if the ray was used to annihilate the very earth beneath the
wearer's feet?

The only protective equipment that I thought was worth a whoop was a
very peculiar device with which a contingent of five hundred Altoonas
was supplied. They called it the "umbra-shield." It was a bell-shaped
affair of inertron, counterweighted with ultron, about eight feet high.
The gunner, who walked inside it, carried it easily with two shoulder
straps. There were handles inside too, by which the gunner might more
easily balance it when running, or lift it to clear any obstructions on
the ground.

In the apex of the affair, above his head, was a small turret,
containing an automatic rocket gun. The periscopic gun sight and the
controls were on a level with the operator's eyes. In going into action
he could, after taking up his position, simply stoop until the rim of
the umbra-shield rested on the ground, or else slip off the shoulder
straps, and stand there, quite safe from the disintegrator ray, and work
his gun.

But again, I could not see what was to prevent the Hans from slicing
underneath it, instead of directly at it, with their rays.

       *       *       *       *       *

As I saw it, any American who was unfortunate enough to get in the
direct path of a "dis" ray, was almost certain to "go out," unless he
was locked up tight in a complete shell of inertron, as for instance, in
an inertron swooper. It seemed to me better to concentrate all our
efforts on tactics of attack, trusting to our ability to get the Hans
before they got us.

I had one other main unit besides my bayonet battalion, a long-gun
contingent composed entirely of girls, as were my scout units and most
of my auxiliary contingents. These youngsters had been devoting
themselves to target practice for months, and had developed a fine
technique of range-finding and the various other tactics of Twentieth
Century massed artillery, to which was added the scientific perfection
of the rocket guns and an average mental alertness that would have put
the artilleryman of the First World War to shame.

From the information our contact guard had obtained, it appeared that
the Hans had developed a type of "groundship" completely protected by a
disintegrator ray "canopy" that was operated from a short mast, and
spread down around it as a cone.

These ships were merely adaptations of their airships, and were designed
to travel but a few feet above the ground. Their repeller rays were
relatively weak; just strong enough to lift them about ten or twelve
feet from the surface. Hence they would draw but lightly upon the power
broadcast from the city, and great numbers of them could be used. A
special ray at the stern propelled them, and an extra-lift ray in the
bow enabled them to nose up over ground obstacles. Their most formidable
feature was the cone-shaped "canopy" of short-range disintegrator rays
designed to spread down around them from a circular generator at the tip
of a twenty-foot mast amidship. This would annihilate any projectile
shot at it, for they naturally could not reach the ship without passing
through the cone of rays.

It was instantly obvious that the "ground ships" would prove to be the
"tanks" of the Twenty-fifth Century, and with due allowance for the fact
that they were protected with a sheathing of annihilating rays instead
of with steel, that they would have about the same handicaps and
advantages as tanks, except that since they would float lightly on short
repeller rays, they could hardly resort to the destructive crushing
tactics of the tanks of the First World War.

       *       *       *       *       *

As soon as our first supplies of inertron-sheathed rockets came through,
their invulnerability would be at an end, as indeed would be that of the
Han cities themselves. But these projectiles were not yet out of the
factories.

In the meantime, however, the groundships would be hard to handle. Each
of them we understood would be equipped with a thin long-range "dis"
ray, mounted in a turret at the base of the mast.

We had no information as to the probable tactics of the Hans in the use
of these ships. One sure method of destroying them would be to bury
mines in their path, too deep for the penetration of their protecting
canopy, which would not, our engineers estimated, cut deeper than about
three feet a second. But we couldn't ring Nu-Yok with a continuous mine
on a radius of from five to fifteen or twenty miles. Nor could we be
certain beforehand of the direction of their attack.

In the end, after several hours' discussion, we agreed on a flexible
defense. Rather than risk many lives, we would withdraw before them,
test their effectiveness and familiarize ourselves with the tactics they
adopted. If possible, we would send engineers in behind them from the
flanks, to lay mines in the probable path of their return, providing
their first attack proved to be a raid and not an advance to consolidate
new positions.




CHAPTER III

We "Sink" the "Ground Ships"


Boss Handan, of the Winslows, a giant of a man, a two-fisted fighter and
a leader of great sagacity, had been selected by the council as our Boss
_pro tem_, and having given the scatter signal to the council, he
retired to our general headquarters, which we had established on Second
Mountain a few miles in the rear of the fighting front in a deep ravine.

There, in quarters cut far below the surface, he would observe every
detail of the battle on the wonderful system of viewplates our ultrono
engineers had constructed through a series of relays from ultroscope
observation posts and individual "_cameramen_."

Two hours before dawn our long distance _scopemen_ reported a squadron
of "ground ships" leaving the enemy's disintegrator wall, and heading
rapidly somewhat to the south of us, toward the site of the ancient city
of Newark. The ultroscopes could detect no canopy operation. This in
itself was not significant, for they were penetrating hills in their
lines of vision, most of them, which of course blurred their pictures to
a slight extent. But by now we had a well-equipped electronoscope
division, with instruments nearly equal to those of the Hans themselves;
and these could detect no evidence of _dis_ rays in operation.

Handan appreciated our opportunity instantly, for no sooner had the
import of the message on the Bosses' channel become clear than we heard
his personal command snapped out over the long-gunners' general channel.

Nine hundred and seventy long-gunners on the south and west sides of the
city, concealed in the dark fastnesses of the forests and hillsides,
leaped to their guns, switched on their dial lights, and flipped the
little lever combinations on their pieces that automatically registered
them on the predetermined position of map section HM-243-839, setting
their magazines for twenty shots, and pressing their fire buttons.

For what seemed an interminable instant nothing happened.

Then several miles to the southeast, an entire section of the country
literally blew up, in a fiery eruption that shot a mile into the air.
The concussion, when it reached me, was terrific. The light was
blinding.

And our _scopemen_ reported the instant annihilation of the squadron.

       *       *       *       *       *

What happened, of course, was this; the Hans knew nothing of our ability
to see at night through our ultroscopes. Regarding itself as invisible
in the darkness, and believing our instruments would pick up its
location when its _dis_ rays went into operation, the squadron made the
fatal error of not turning on its canopies.

To say that consternation overwhelmed the Han high command would be
putting it mildly. Despite their use of code and other protective
expedients, we picked up enough of their messages to know that the
incident badly demoralized them.

Their next attempt was made in daylight. I was aloft in my swooper at
the time, hanging motionless about a mile up. Below, the groundships
looked like a number of oval lozenges gliding across a map, each
surrounded by a circular halo of luminescence that was its _dis_ ray
canopy.

They had nosed up over the spiny ridge of what once had been Jersey
City, and were moving across the meadowlands. There were twenty of them.

Coming to the darker green that marked the forest on the "map" below me,
they adopted a wedge formation, and playing their pencil rays ahead of
them, they began to beam a path for themselves through the forest. In my
ears sounded the ultrophone instructions of my executives to the
long-gunners in the forest, and one by one I heard the girls report
their rapid retirement with their guns and other inertron-lightened
equipment. I located several of them with my scopes, with which I could,
of course, focus through the leafy screen above them, and noted with
satisfaction the unhurried speed of their movements.

On ploughed the Han wedge, while my girls separated before it and
retired to the sides. With a rapidity much greater than that of the
ships themselves, the beams penetrated deeper and deeper into the
forest, playing continuously in the same direction, literally melting
their way through, as a stream of hot water might melt its way through a
snow bank.

Then a curious thing happened. One of the ships near one wing of the
wedge must have passed over unusually soft ground, or perhaps some
irregularity in the control of its canopy generator caused it to dig
deeper into the earth ahead of it, for it gave a sudden downward lurch,
and on coming up out of it, swerved a bit to one side, its offense beam
slicing full into the ship echeloned to the left ahead of it. That ship,
all but a few plates on one side, instantly vanished from sight. But the
squadron could not stop. As soon as a ship stood still, its canopy ray
playing continuously in one spot, the ground around it was annihilated
to a continuously increasing depth. A couple of them tried it, but
within a space of seconds, they had dug such deep holes around
themselves that they had difficulty in climbing out. Their commanders,
however, had the foresight to switch off their offense rays, and so
damaged no more of their comrades.

       *       *       *       *       *

I switched in with my ultrophone on Boss Handan's channel, intending to
report my observation, but found that one of our swooper scouts, who,
like myself, was hanging above the Hans, was ahead of me. Moreover, he
was reporting a suddenly developed idea that resulted in the untimely
end of the Hans' groundship threat.

"Those ships can't climb out of deep holes, Boss," he was saying
excitedly. "Lay a big barrage against them--no, not on them--in front of
them--always in front of them. Pull it back as they come on. But churn
h--l out of the ground in front of them! Get the rocketmen to make a
penetrative time rocket. Shoot it into the ground in front of them, deep
enough to be below their canopy ray, see, and detonate under them as
they go over it!"

I heard Handan's roar of exultation as I switched off again to order a
barrage from my Wyoming girls. Then I threw my rocket motor to full
speed and shot off a mile to one side, and higher, for I knew that soon
there would be a boiling eruption below.

No smoke interfered with my view of it, for our atomic explosive was
smokeless in its action. A line of blinding, flashing fire appeared in
front of the groundship wedge. The ships ploughed with calm
determination toward it, but it withdrew before them, not steadily, but
jerkily intermittent, so that the ground became a series of gigantic
humps, ridges and shell holes. Into these the Han ships wallowed,
plunging ponderously yet not daring to stop while their protective
canopy rays played, not daring to shut off these active rays.

One overturned. Our observers reported it. The result was a hail of
rocket shells directly on the squadron. These could not penetrate the
canopies of the other ships, but the one which had turned turtle was
blown to fragments.

The squadron attempted to change its course and dodge the barrier in
front of it. But a new barrier of blazing detonations and churned earth
appeared on its flanks. In a matter of minutes it was ringed around,
thanks to the skill of our fire control.

One by one the wallowing ships plunged into holes from which they could
not extricate themselves. One by one their canopy rays were shut off, or
the ships somersaulted off the knolls on which they perched, as their
canopies melted the ground away from around them. So one by one they
were destroyed.

Thus the second ground sortie of the Hans was annihilated.




CHAPTER IV

Han Electrono-Ray Science


At this period the Hans of Nu-Yok had only one airship equipped with
their new armored repeller ray, their latest defense against our tactics
of shooting rockets into the repeller rays and letting the latter hurl
them up against the ships. They had developed a new steel alloy of
tremendous strength, which passed their _rep_ ray with ease, but was
virtually impervious to our most powerful explosives. Their supplies of
this alloy were limited, for it could be produced only in the Lo-Tan
shops, for it was only there that they could develop the degree of
electronic power necessary for its manufacture.

This ship shot out toward our lines just as the last of the groundships
turned turtle and was blown to pieces. As it approached, the rockets of
our invisible and widely scattered gunners in the forest below began to
explode beneath its _rep_ ray plates. The explosions caused the great
ship to plunge and roll mightily, but otherwise did it no serious harm
that I could see, for it was very heavily armored.

Occasionally rockets fired directly at the ship would find their mark
and tear gashes in its side and bottom plates, but these hits were few.
The ship was high in the air, and a far more difficult target than were
its _rep_ ray columns. To hit the latter, our gunners had only to gauge
their aim vertically. Range could be practically ignored, since the
_rep_ ray at any point above two-thirds the distance from the earth to
the ship would automatically hurl the rocket upward against the _rep_
ray plate.

As the ship sped toward us, rocking, plunging and recovering, it began
to beam the forest below. It was equipped with a superbeam too, which
cut a swathe nearly a hundred feet wide wherever it played.

With visions of many a life snuffed out below me, I surrendered to the
impulse to stage a single-handed attack on this ship, feeling quite
secure in my floating shell of inertron. I nosed up vertically, and
rocketed for a position above the ship. Then as I climbed upward, as yet
unobserved in my tiny craft that was scarcely larger than myself, I
trained my telultroscope on the Han ship, focussing through to a view of
its interior.

Much as I had imbibed of this generation's hatred for the Hans, I was
forced to admire them for the completeness and efficiency of this
marvelous craft of theirs.

Constantly twirling the controls of my scope to hold the focus, I
examined its interior from nose to stern.

       *       *       *       *       *

It may be of interest at this point to give the reader a layman's
explanation of the electronic or ionic machinery of these ships, and of
their general construction, for today the general public knows little of
the particular application of the electronic laws which the Hans used,
although the practical application of ultronics are well understood.

Back in the Twentieth Century I had, like literally millions of others,
dabbled a bit in "radio" as we called it then; the science of the Hans
was simply the superdevelopment of "electricity," "radio," and
"broadcasting."

It must be understood that this explanation of mine is not technically
accurate, but only what might be termed an illustrative approximation.

The Hans' power-stations used to broadcast three distinct "_powers_"
simultaneously. Our engineers called them the "_starter_," the
"_pullee_" and the "_sub-disintegrator_." The last named had nothing to
do with the operation of the ships, but was exclusively the powerizer of
the disintegrator generators.

The "_starter_" was not unlike the "radio" broadcasts of the Twentieth
Century. It went out at a frequency of about 1,000 kilocycles, had an
amperage of approximately zero, but a voltage of two billion. Properly
amplified by the use of _inductostatic_ batteries (a development of the
principle underlying the earth induction compass applied to the control
of static) this current energized the _"A" ionomagnetic_ coils on the
airships, large and sturdy affairs, which operated the _Attractoreflex
Receivers_, which in turn "pulled in" the second broadcast power known
as the "_pullee_," absorbing it from every direction, literally
exhausting it from surrounding space. The "_pullee_" came in at about a
half-billion volts, but in very heavy amperage, proportional to the
capacity of the receiver, and on a long wave--at audio frequency in
fact. About half of this power reception ultimately actuated the
_repeller ray_ generators. The other half was used to energize the _"B"
ionomagnetic_ coils, peculiarly wound affairs, whose magnetic fields
constituted the only means of insulating and controlling the circuits of
the three "powers."

The repeller ray generators, operating on this current, and in
conjunction with "twin synchronizers" in the power broadcast plant,
developed two rhythmically variable ether-ground circuits of opposite
polarity. In the "X" circuit, the negative was grounded along an
ultraviolet beam from the ship's repeller-ray generator. The positive
connection was through the ether to the "X synchronizer" in the power
plant, whose opposite pole was grounded. The "Y" circuit travelled the
same course, but in the opposite direction.

The rhythmic variables of these two opposing circuits, as nearly as I
can understand it, in heterodyning, created a powerful material "push"
from the earth, up along the violet ray beam against the _rep_ ray
generator and against the two synchronizers at the power plant.

This push developed molecularly from the earth-mass-resultant to the
generator; and at the same fractional distance from the _rep_ ray
generator to the power plant.

       *       *       *       *       *

The force exerted upward against the ship was, of course, highly
concentrated, being confined to the path of the ultraviolet beam. Air or
any material substance, coming within the indicated section of the beam,
was thrown violently upward. The ships actually rode on columns of air
thus forcefully up-thrown. Their "home berths" and "stations" were
constructed with air pits beneath. When they rose from ordinary ground
in open country, there was a vast upheaval of earth beneath their
generators at the instant of take-off; this ceased as they got well
above ground level.

Equal pressure to the lifting power of the generator was exerted against
the synchronizers at the power plant, but this force, not being
concentrated directionally along an ultraviolet beam, involved a
practical problem only at points relatively close to the synchronizers.

Of course the synchronizers were automatically controlled by the
operation of the generators, and only the two were needed for any number
of ships drawing power from the station, providing their protection was
rugged enough to stand the strain.

Actually, they were isolated in vast spherical steel chambers with thick
walls, so that nothing but air pressure would be hurled against them,
and this, of course, would be self-neutralizing, coming as it did from
all directions.

The "sub-disintegrator power" reached the ships as an ordinary broadcast
reception at a negligible amperage, but from one to 500 "quints"
(quintillions) voltage, controllable only by the fields of the _"B"
ionomagnetic_ coils. It had a wave-length of about ten meters. In the
_dis_ ray generator, this wave-length was broken up into an almost
unbelievably high frequency, and became a directionally controlled wave
of an infinitesimal fraction of an inch. This wave-length, actually
identical with the diameter of an electron, that is to say, being
accurately "tuned" to an electron, disrupted the orbital paths and
balanced pulsations of the electrons within the atom, so desynchronizing
them as to destroy polarity balance of the atom and causing it to cease
to exist as an atom. It was in this way that the ray reduced matter to
"nothingness."

This destruction of the atom, and a limited power for its reconstruction
under certain conditions, marked the utmost progress of the Han science.




CHAPTER V

American Ultronic Science


Our own engineers, working in shielded laboratories far underground, had
established such control over the "de-atomized" electrons as to dissect
them in their turn into _sub-electrons_. Moreover, they had carried
through the study of this "order" to the point where they finally
"dissected" the _sub-electron_ into its component _ultrons_, for the
fundamental laws underlying these successive orders are not radically
dissimilar. And as they progressed, they developed constructive as well
as destructive practice. Hence the great triumphs of ultron and
inertron, our two wonderful synthetic elements, built up from
super-balanced and sub-balanced ultronic whorls, through the
_sub-electronic_ order into the _atomic_ and _molecular_.

Hence also, come our relatively simple and beautifully efficient
ultrophones and ultroscopes, which in their phonic and visual operation
penetrate obstacles of material, electronic and sub-electronic nature
without let or hindrance, and with the consumption of but infinitesimal
power.

Static disturbance, I should explain, is negligible in the
sub-electronic order, and non-existent in the ultronic.

The pioneer expeditions of our engineers into the ultronic order, I am
told, necessitated the use of most elaborate, complicated and delicate
apparatus, as well as the expenditure of most costly power, but once
established there, all necessary power is developed very simply from
tiny batteries composed of thin plates of _metultron_ and _katultron_.
These two substances, developed synthetically in much the same manner as
ordinary ultron, exhibit dual phenomena which for sake of illustration I
may compare with certain of the phenomena of radioactivity. As radium is
constantly giving off electronic emanations and changing its atomic
structure thereby, so _katultron_ is constantly giving off _ultronic_
emanations, and so changing its _sub-electronic_ form, while
_metultron_, its complement, is constantly attracting and absorbing
_ultronic_ values, and so changing its sub-electronic nature in the
opposite direction. Thin plates of these two substances, when placed
properly in juxtaposition, with insulating plates of inertron between,
constitute a battery which generates an ultronic current.

       *       *       *       *       *

And it is a curious parallel that just as there were many mysteries
connected with the nature of electricity in the Twentieth Century
(mysteries which, I might mention, never _have_ been solved,
notwithstanding our penetration into the "sub-" orders) so there are
certain mysteries about the ultronic current. It will flow, for
instance, through an ultron wire, from the _katultron_ to the
_metultron_ plate, as electricity will flow through a copper wire. It
will short circuit between the two plates if the inertron insulation is
imperfect. When the insulation is perfect, however, and no ultron
metallic circuit is complete, the "current" (apparently the same that
would flow through the metallic circuit) is projected into space in an
absolutely straight line from the _katultron_ plate, and received from
space by the _metultron_ plate on the same line. This line is the
theoretical straight line passing through the mass-center of each plate.
The shapes and angles of the plates have nothing to do with it, except
that the perpendicular distance of the plate edges from the mass-center
line determines thickness of the beam of parallel current-rays.

Thus a simple battery may be used either as a sender or receiver of
current. Two batteries adjusted to the same center line become connected
in series just as if they were connected by ultron wires.

In actual practice, however, two types of batteries are used; both the
_foco_ batteries and _broadcast_ batteries.

_Foco_ batteries are twin batteries, arranged to shoot a positive and a
negative beam in the same direction. When these beams are made
intermittent at light frequencies (though they are not light waves, nor
of the same order as light waves) and are brought together, or focussed,
at a given spot, the space in which they cross radiates alternating
ultronic current in every direction. This radiated _ultralight_ acts
like true light so long as the crossing beams vibrate at light
frequencies, except in three respects: first, it is not visible to the
eye; second, its "color" is exclusively dependent on the frequency of
the _foco_ beams, which determine the frequency of the alternating
radiation. Material surfaces, it would appear, reflect them all in equal
value, and the color of the resultant picture depends on the color of
the _foco_ frequencies. By altering these, a reddish, yellowish or
bluish picture may be seen. In actual practice an orthochromatic mixture
of frequencies is used to give a black, gray and white picture. The
third difference is this: rays pulsating in line toward any ultron
object connected with the rear plates of the twin batteries through
rectifiers cannot be reflected by material objects, for it appears they
are subject to a kind of "pull" which draws them straight through
material objects, which in a sense are "magnetized" and while in this
state offer no resistance.

Ultron, when so connected with battery terminals, glows with true light
under the impact of _ultralight_, and if in the form of a lens or set of
lenses, may be made to deliver a picture in any telescopic degree
desired.

       *       *       *       *       *

The essential parts of an ultroscope, then, are twin batteries with
focal control and frequency control; an ultron shield, battery connected
and adjustable, to intercept the direct rays from the "_glow-spot_,"
with an ordinary light-shield between it and the lens; and the lens
itself, battery connected and with more or less telescopic elaboration.

To look through a substance at an object, one has only to focus the
_glow-spot_ beyond the substance but on the near side of the object and
slightly above it.

A complete apparatus may be "set" for "penetrative," "distance" and
"normal vision."

In the first, which one would use to look through the forest screen from
the air, or in examining the interior of a Han ship or any opaque
structure, the _glow-spot_ is brought low, at only a tiny angle above
the vision line, and the shield, of course, must be very carefully
adjusted.

"Distance" setting would be used, for instance, in surveying a valley
beyond a hill or mountain; the _glow-spot_ is thrown high to illuminate
the entire scene.

In the "normal" setting the _foco_ rays are brought together close
overhead, and illuminate the scene just as a lamp of super brilliancy
would in the same position.

For phonic communication a spherical sending battery is a ball of
metultron, surrounded by an insulating shell of inertron, and this in
turn by a spherical shell of katultron, from which the current radiates
in every direction, tuning being accomplished by frequency of
intermissions, with audio-frequency modulation. The receiving battery
has a core pole of katultron and an outer shell of metultron. The
receiving battery, of course, picks up all frequencies, the undesired
ones being tuned out in detection.

Tuning, however, is only a convenience for privacy and elimination of
interference in ultrophonic communication. It is not involved as a
necessity, for untuned currents may be broadcast at voice-controlled
frequencies, directly and without any carrier wave.

To use plate batteries or single center-line batteries for phonic
communication would require absolutely accurate directional aligning of
sender and receiver, a very great practical difficulty, except when
sender and receiver are relatively close and mutually visible.

       *       *       *       *       *

This, however, is the regular system used in the Inter-Gang network for
official communication. The senders and receivers used in this system
are set only with the greatest difficulty, and by the aid of the finest
laboratory apparatus, but once set, they are permanently locked in
position at the stations, and barring earthquakes or insecure
foundations, need no subsequent adjustment. Accuracy of alignment
permits beam paths no thicker than the old lead pencils I used to use in
the Twentieth Century.

The non-interference of such communication lines, and the difficulty of
cutting in on them from any point except immediately adjacent to the
sender or receiver, is strikingly apparent when it is realized that
every square inch of an imaginary plane bisecting the unlocated beam
would have to be explored with a receiving battery in order to locate
the beam itself.

A practical compromise between the spherical or universal broadcast
senders and receivers on the one hand, and the single line batteries on
the other, is the _multi-facet battery_. Another, and more practical
device particularly for distance work, is the _window-spherical_. It is
merely an ordinary spherical battery with a shielding shell with an
opening of any desired size, from which a directionally controlled beam
may be emitted in different forms, usually that simply of an expanding
cone, with an angle of expansion sufficient to cover the desired
territory at the desired point of reception.




CHAPTER VI

An Unequal Duel


But to return to my narrative, and my _swooper_, from which I was gazing
at the interior of the Han ship.

This ship was not unlike the great dirigibles of the Twentieth Century
in shape, except that it had no suspended control car nor gondolas, no
propellers, and no rudders, aside from a permanently fixed
double-fishtail stabilizer at the rear, and a number of "keels" so
arranged as to make the most of the repeller ray airlift columns.

Its width was probably twice as great as its depth, and its length about
twice its width. That is to say, it was about 100 feet from the main
keel to the top-deck at their maximum distance from each other, about
200 feet wide amidship, and between 400 and 500 feet long. It had in
addition to the top-deck, three interior decks. In its general curvature
the ship was a compromise between a true streamline design and a
flattened cylinder.

For a distance of probably 75 to 100 feet back of the nose there were no
decks except that formed by the bottom of the hull. But from this point
back the decks ran to within a few feet of the stern.

At various spots on the hull curvature in this great "hollow nose" were
platforms from which the crews of the _dis_ ray generators and the
_electronoscope_ and _electronophone_ devices manipulated their
apparatus.

Into this space from the forward end of the center deck, projected the
control room. The walls, ceiling and floor of this compartment were
simply the surfaces of _viewplates_. There were no windows or other
openings.

The operation officers within the control room, so far as their vision
was concerned, might have imagined themselves suspended in space, except
for the transmitters, levers and other signalling devices around them.

Five officers, I understand, had their posts in the control room; the
captain, and the chiefs of _scopes_, _phones_, _dis rays_ and
_navigation_. Each of these was in continuous interphone communication
with his subordinates in other posts throughout the ship. Each
_viewplate_ had its phone connecting with its "_eye machines_" on the
hull, the crews of which would switch from telescopic to normal view at
command.

There were, of course, many other _viewplates_ at executive posts
throughout the ship.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Hans followed a peculiar system in the command of their ships. Each
ship had a double complement of officers. Active Officers and Base
Officers. The former were in actual, active charge of the ship and its
apparatus. The latter remained at the ship base, at desks equipped with
_viewplates_ and phones, in constant communication with their
"correspondents," on the ship. They acted continuously as consultants,
observers, recorders and advisors during the flight or action. Although
not primarily accountable for the operation of the ship, they were
senior to, and in a sense responsible for the training and efficiency of
the Active Officers.

The _ionomagnetic coils_, which served as the casings, "plates" and
insulators of the gigantic condensers, were all located amidship on a
center line, reaching clear through from the top to the bottom of the
hull, and reaching from the forward to the rear rep-ray generators; that
is, from points about 110 feet from bow and stern. The crew's quarters
were arranged on both sides of the coils. To the outside of these, where
the several decks touched the hull, were located the various pieces of
_phone_, _scope_ and _dis ray_ apparatus.

The ship into which I was gazing with my _ultroscope_ (at a telescopic
and penetrative setting), carried a crew of perhaps 150 men all told.
And except for the strained looks on their evil yellow faces I might
have been tempted to believe I was looking on some Twenty-fifth Century
pleasure excursion, for there was no running around nor appearance of
activity.

The Hans loved their ease, and despite the fact that this was a war
ship, every machine and apparatus in it was equipped with a complement
of seats and specially designed couches, in which officers and men
reclined as they gazed at their viewplates, and manipulated the little
sets of controls placed convenient to their hands.

       *       *       *       *       *

The picture was a comic one to me, and I laughed, wondering how such
soft creatures had held the sturdy and virile American race in complete
subjection for centuries. But my laugh died as my mind grasped at the
obvious explanation. These Hans were only soft physically. Mentally they
were hard, efficient, ruthless, and conscienceless.

Impulsively I nosed my _swooper_ down toward the ship and shot toward it
at full rocket power. I had acted so swiftly that I had covered nearly
half the distance toward the ship before my mind slowly drifted out of
the daze of my emotion. This proved my undoing. Their scopeman saw me
too quickly, for in heading directly at them I became easily visible,
appearing as a steady, expanding point. Looking through their hull, I
saw the crew of a _dis_ ray generator come suddenly to attention. A
second later their beam engulfed me.

For an instant my heart stood still. But the inertron shell of my
swooper was impervious to the disintegrator ray. I was out of luck,
however, so far as my control over my tiny ship was concerned. I had
been hurtling in a direct line toward the ship when the beam found me.
Now, when I tried to swerve out of the beam, the swooper responded but
sluggishly to the shift I made in the rocket angle. I was, of course,
traveling straight down a beam of vacuum. As my craft slowly nosed to
the edge of the beam, the air rushing into this vacuum from all sides
threw it back in again.

Had I shot my ship across one of these beams at right angles, my
momentum would have carried me through with no difficulty. But I had no
momentum now except in the line of the beam, and this being a vacuum
now, my momentum, under full rocket power, was vastly increased. This
realization gave me a second and more acute thrill. Would I be able to
check my little craft in time, or would I, helpless as a bullet itself,
crash through the shell of the Han ship to my own destruction?

I shut off my rocketmotor, but noticed no practical diminution of speed.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was the fear of the Hans themselves that saved me. Through my
ultroscope I saw sudden alarm on their faces, hesitation, a frantic
officer in the control room jabbering into his phone. Then shakily the
crew flipped their beam off to the side. The jar on my craft was
terrific. Its nose caught the rushing tumble of air first, of course,
and my tail sailing in a vacuum, swung around with a sickening wrench.
My swooper might as well have been a barrel in the tumult of waters at
the foot of Niagara. What was worse, the Hans kept me in that condition.
Three of their beams were now playing in my direction, but not directly
on me except for split seconds. Their technique was to play their beams
around me more than on me, jerking them this way and that, so as to form
vacuum pockets into which the air slapped and roared as the beams
shifted, tossing me around like a chip.

Desperately I tried to bring my craft under control, to point its nose
toward the Han ship and discharge an explosive rocket. Bitterly I cursed
my self-confidence, and my impulsive action. An experienced pilot of the
present age would have known better than to be caught shooting straight
down a _dis_ ray beam. He would have kept his ship shooting constantly
at some angle to it, so that his momentum would carry him across it if
he hit it. Too late I realized that there was more to the business of
air fighting, than instinctive skill in guiding a swooper.

At last, when for a fraction of a second my nose pointed toward the
Hans, I pressed the button of my rocket gun. I registered a hit, but not
an accurate one. My projectile grazed an upper section of the ship's
hull. At that it did terrific damage. The explosion battered in a
section about fifty feet in diameter, partially destroying the top deck.

At the same instant I had shot my rocket, I had, in a desperate attempt
to escape that turmoil of tumbling air, released a catch and dropped all
that it was possible to drop of my ultron ballast. My swooper shot
upward, like a bubble streaking for the surface of water.

I was free of the trap in which I had been caught, but unable to take
advantage of the confusion which reigned on the Han ship.

I was as helpless to maneuver my ship now, in its up-rush, as when I had
been tumbling in the air pockets. Moreover I was badly battered from
plunging around in my shell like a pellet in a box, and partially
unconscious.

I was miles in the air when I recovered myself. The swooper was steady
enough now, but still rising, my instruments told me, and traveling in a
general westward direction at full speed. Far below me was a sea of
clouds, stretching from horizon to horizon, and through occasional
breaks in its surface I could see still other seas of clouds at lower
levels.




CHAPTER VII

Captured!


Certainly my situation was no less desperate. Unless I could find some
method of compensating for my lost ballast, the inverse gravity of my
inertron ship would hurl me continuously upward until I shot forth from
the last air layer into space. I thought of jumping, and floating down
on my inertron belt, but I was already too high for this. The air was
too rarefied to permit breathing outside, though my little air
compressors were automatically maintaining the proper density within the
shell. If I could compress a sufficiently large quantity of air inside
the craft, I would add to its weight. But there seemed little chance
that I would myself be able to withstand sufficient compression.

I thought of releasing my inertron belt, but doubted whether this would
be enough. Besides I might need the belt badly if I did find some method
of bringing the little ship down, and it came too fast.

At last a plan came into my half-numbed brain that had some promise of
success, though it was desperate enough. Cutting one of the hose pipes
on my air compressor, and grasping it between my lips, I set to work to
saw off the heads of the rivets that held the entire nose section of the
swooper (inertron plates had to be grooved and riveted together, since
the substance was impervious to heat and could not be welded).
Desperately I sawed, hammered and chiseled, until at last with a wrench
and a snap, the plate broke away.

The released nose of the ship shot upward. The rest began to drop with
me. How fast I dropped I do not know, for my instruments went with the
nose. Half fainting, I grimly clenched the rubber hose between my teeth,
while the little compressor "carried on" nobly, despite the wrecked
condition of the ship, giving me just enough air to keep my lungs from
collapsing.

       *       *       *       *       *

At last I shot through a cloud layer, and a long time afterward, it
seemed, another. From the way in which they flashed up to meet me and to
appear away above me, I must have been dropping like a stone.

At last I tried the rocket motor, very gently, to check my fall. The
swooper was, of course, dropping tail first, and I had to be careful
lest it turn over with a sharp blast from the motor, and dump me out.

Passing through the third layer of clouds I saw the earth beneath me.
Then I jumped, pulling myself up through the jagged opening, and leaping
upward while the remains of my ship shot away below me.

On approaching the ground I opened my chute-cape, to further check my
fall, and landed lightly, with no further mishap. Whereupon I promptly
threw myself down and slept, so exhausted was I with my experience.

It was not until the next morning that I awoke and gazed about me. I had
come down in mountainous country. My intention was to get my bearing by
tuning in headquarters with my ultrophone. But to my dismay I found the
little battery disks had been torn from the earflaps of my helmet,
though my chest-disk transmitter was still in place, and so far as I
could see, in working order. I could report my experience, but could
receive no reply.

I spent a half hour repeating my story and explanation on the
headquarters channel, then once more surveyed my surroundings, trying to
determine in which direction I had better leap. Then there came a stab
of pain on the top of my head, and I dropped unconscious.

I regained consciousness to find myself, much to my surprise, a prisoner
in the hands of a foot detachment of some thirty Hans. My surprise was a
double one; first that they had not killed me instantly; second, that a
detachment of them should be roaming this wild country afoot, obviously
far from any of their cities, and with no ship hanging in the sky above
them.

       *       *       *       *       *

As I sat up, their officer grunted with satisfaction and growled a
guttural command. I was seized and pulled roughly to my feet by four
soldiers, and hustled along with the party into a wooded ravine, through
which we climbed sharply upward. I surmised, correctly as it turned out,
that some projectile had grazed my head, and I was in such shape that if
it had not been for the fact that my inertron belt bore most of my
weight, they would have had to carry me. But as it was I made out well,
and at the end of an hour's climb was beginning to feel like myself
again, though the Han soldiers around me were puffing and drooping as
men will, no matter how healthy, when they are totally unaccustomed to
physical effort.

At length the party halted for a rest. I observed them curiously. Except
for a few brief exciting moments at the time of our air raid on the
intelligence office in Nu-Yok, I had seen no living specimens of this
yellow race at close quarters.

They looked little like the Mongolians of the Twentieth Century, except
for their slant eyes and round heads. The characteristic of the high
cheek bones appeared to have been bred out of them, as were those of the
relatively short legs and the muddy yellow skin. To call them yellow was
more figurative than literal. Their skins were whiter than those of our
own weather-tanned forest men. Nevertheless, their pigmentation was
peculiar, and what there was of it looked more like a pale orange tint
than the ruddiness of the Caucasian. They were well formed, but rather
undersized and soft-looking, small-muscled and smooth-skinned, like
young girls. Their features were finely chiseled, eyes beady, and nose
slightly aquiline.

They were uniformed, not in close-fitting green or other shades of
protective coloring, such as the unobtrusive gray of the Jersey Beaches
or the leadened russet of the autumn uniforms of our people. Instead
they wore loose fitting jackets of some silky material, and loose knee
pants. This particular command had been equipped with form-moulded boots
of some soft material that reached above the knee under their pants.
They wore circular hats with small crowns and wide rims. Their loose
jackets were belted at the waist, and they carried for weapons each man
a knife, a short double-edged sword and what I took to be a form of
magazine rocket gun. It was a rather bulky affair, short-barrelled, and
with a pistol grip. It was obviously intended to be fired either from
the waist position or from some sort of support, like the old machine
guns. It looked, in fact, like a rather small edition of the Twentieth
Century arm.

And have I mentioned the color of their uniforms? Their circular hats
and pants were a bright yellow; their coats a flaming scarlet. What
targets they were!

I must have chuckled audibly at the thought, for their commander who was
seated on a folding stool one of his men had placed for him, glanced in
my direction, and, at his arrogant gesture of command, I was prodded to
my feet, and with my hands still bound, as they had been from the moment
I recovered consciousness, I was dragged before him.

       *       *       *       *       *

Then I knew what it was about these Hans that kept me in a turmoil of
irritation. It was their sardonic, mocking, cruel smiles; smiles which
left their stamp on their faces, even in repose. Now the commander was
smiling tauntingly at me. When he spoke, it was in my own language.

"So!" he sneered. "You beasts have learned to laugh. You have gotten out
of control in the last year or so. But that shall be remedied. In the
meantime, a simple little surgical operation would make your smile a
permanent one, reaching from ear to ear. But there, my orders are to
deliver you and your equipment, all we have of it, intact. The
Heaven-Born has had a whim."

"And who," I asked, "is this Heaven-Born?"

"San-Lan," he replied, "misbegotten spawn of the late High Priestess
Nlui-Mok, and now Most Glorious Air Lord of All the Hans." He rolled out
these titles with a bow of exaggerated respect toward the west, and in a
tone of mockery. Those of his men who were near enough to hear,
snickered and giggled.

I was to learn that this amazing attitude of his was typical rather than
exceptional. Strange as it may seem, no Han rendered any respect to
another, nor expected it in return; that is, not genuine respect. Their
discipline was rigid and cold-bloodedly heartless. The most elaborate
courtesies were demanded and accorded among equals and from inferiors to
superiors, but such was the intelligence and moral degradation of this
remarkable race, that every one of them recognized these courtesies for
what they were; they must of necessity have been hollow mockeries. They
took pleasure in forcing one another to go through with them, each
trying to outdo the other in cynical, sardonic thrusts, clothed in the
most meticulously ceremonious courtesy. As a matter of fact, my captor,
by this crude reference to the origin of his ruler, was merely proving
himself a crude fellow, guilty of a vulgarity rather than of a
treasonable or disrespectful remark. An officer of higher rank and
better breeding, would have managed a clever innuendo, less direct, but
equally plain.

I was about to ask him what part of the country we were in and where I
was to be taken, when one of his men came running to him with a little
portable electronophone, which he placed before him, with much bowing
and scraping.

He conversed through this for a while, and then condescended to give me
the information that a ship would soon be above us, and that I was to be
transferred to it. In telling me this, he managed to convey, with crude
attempts at mock-courtesy, that he and his men would feel relieved to be
rid of me as a menace to health and sanitation, and would take exquisite
joy in inflicting me upon the crew of the ship.




CHAPTER VIII

Hypnotic Torture


Some twenty minutes later the ship arrived. It settled down slowly into
the ravine on its repeller rays until it was but a few feet above the
tree tops. There it was stopped, and floated steadily, while a little
cage was let down on a wire. Into this I was hustled and locked,
whereupon the cage rose swiftly again to a hole in the bottom of the
hull, into which it fitted snugly, and I stepped into the interior of a
craft not unlike the one with which I had had my fateful encounter, the
cage being unlocked.

The cabin in which I was confined was not an outside compartment, but
was equipped with a number of viewplates.

The ship rose to a great height, and headed westward at such speed that
the hum of the air past its smooth plates rose to a shrill, almost
inaudible moan. After a lapse of some hours we came in sight of an
impressive mountain range, which I correctly guessed to be the Rockies.
Swerving slightly, we headed down toward one of the topmost pinnacles of
the range, and there unfolded in one of the viewplates in my cabin a
glorious view of Lo-Tan, the Magnificent, a fairy city of glistening
glass spires and iridescent colors, piled up on sheer walls of brilliant
blue, on the very tip of this peak.

Nor was there any sheen of shimmering disintegrator rays surrounding it,
to interfere with the sparkling sight. So far-flung were the defenses of
Lo-Tan, I found, that it was considered impossible for an American
rocket gunner to get within effective range, and so numerous were the
_dis_ ray batteries on the mountain peaks and in the ravines, in this
encircling line of defenses, drawn on a radius of no less than 100
miles, that even the largest craft, in the opinion of the Hans, could
easily be brought to earth through air-pocketing tactics. And this, I
was the more ready to believe after my own recent experience.

       *       *       *       *       *

I spent two months as a prisoner in Lo-Tan. I can honestly say that
during that entire time every attention was paid to my physical comfort.
Luxuries were showered upon me. But I was almost continuously subjected
to some form of mental torture or moral assault. Most elaborately staged
attempts at seduction were made upon me with drugs, with women.
Hypnotism was resorted to. Viewplates were faked to picture to me the
complete rout of American forces all over the continent. With incredible
patience, and laboring under great handicaps, in view of the vigor of
the American offensive, the Han intelligence department dug up the fact
that somewhere in the forces surrounding Nu-Yok, I had left behind me
Wilma, my bride of less than a year. In some manner, I will never tell
how, they discovered some likeness of her, and faked an electronoscopic
picture of her in the hands of torturers in Nu-Yok, in which she was
shown holding out her arms piteously toward me, as though begging me to
save her by surrender.

Surrender of what? Strangely enough, they never indicated that to me
directly, and to this day I do not know precisely what they expected or
hoped to get out of me. I surmise that it was information regarding the
American sciences.

There was, however, something about the picture of Wilma in the hands of
the torturers that did not seem real to me, and my mind still resisted.
I remember gazing with staring eyes at that picture, the sweat pouring
down my face, searching eagerly for some visible evidence of fraud and
being unable to find it. It was the identical likeness of Wilma. Perhaps
had my love for her been less great, I would have succumbed. But all the
while I knew subconsciously that this was not Wilma. Product of the
utmost of nobility in this modern virile, rugged American race, she
would have died under even worse torture than these vicious Han
scientists knew how to inflict, before she would have pleaded with me
this way to betray my race and her honor.

But these were things that not even the most skilled of the Han
hypnotists and psychoanalysts could drag from me. Their intelligence
division also failed to pick up the fact that I was myself the product
of the Twentieth Century and not the Twenty-fifth. Had they done so, it
might have made a difference. I have no doubt that some of their most
subtle mental assaults missed fire because of my own Twentieth Century
"denseness." Their hypnotists inflicted many horrifying nightmares on
me, and made me do and say many things that I would not have done in my
right senses. But even in the Twentieth Century we had learned that
hypnotism cannot make a person violate his fundamental concepts of
morality against his will, and steadfastly I steeled my will against
them.

       *       *       *       *       *

I have since thought that I was greatly aided by my newness to this age.
I have never, as a matter of fact, become entirely attuned to it. And
even today I confess to a longing wish that man might travel backward as
well as forward in time. Now that my Wilma has been at rest these many
years, I wish that I might go back to the year 1927, and take up my old
life where I left it off, in the abandoned mine near Scranton.

And at the period of which I speak, I was less attuned than now to the
modern world. Real as my life was, and my love for my wife, there was
much about it all that was like a dream, and in the midst of my tortures
by the Hans, this complex--this habit of many months--helped me to tell
myself that this, too, was all a dream, that I must not succumb, for I
would wake up in a moment.

And so they failed.

More than that, I think I won something nearer to genuine respect from
those around me than any other Hans of that generation accorded to
anybody.

Among these was San-Lan himself, the ruler. In the end it was he who
ordered the cessation of these tortures, and quite frankly admitted to
me his conviction that they had been futile and that I was in many
senses a super-man. Instead of having me executed, he continued to
shower luxuries and attentions on me, and frequently commanded my
attendance upon him.

Another was his favorite concubine, Ngo-Lan, a creature of the most
alluring beauty; young, graceful and most delicately seductive, whose
skill in the arts and sciences put many of their doctors to shame. This
creature, his most prized possession, San-Lan with the utmost moral
callousness ordered to seduce me, urging her to apply without stint and
to its fullest extent, her knowledge of evil arts. Had I not seen the
naked horror of her soul, that she let creep into her eyes for just one
unguarded instant, and had it not been for my conviction of Wilma's
faith in me, I do not know what--but suffice it to say that I resisted
this assault also.

Had San-Lan only known it, he might have had a better chance of breaking
down my resistance through another bit of femininity in his household,
the little nine-year-old Princess Lu-Yan, his daughter.

       *       *       *       *       *

I think San-Lan held something of real affection for this sprightly
little mite, who in spite of the sickening knowledge of rottenness she
had already acquired at this early age, was the nearest thing to
innocence I found in Lo-Tan. But he did not realize this, and could not;
for even the most natural and fundamental affection of the human race,
that of parents for their offspring, had been so degraded and suppressed
in this vicious Han civilization as to be unrecognizable. Naturally
San-Lan could not understand the nature of my pity for this poor child,
nor the fact that it might have proved a weak spot in my armor. But had
he done so, I truly believe he would have been ready to inflict
degradation, torture and even death upon her, to make me surrender the
information he wanted.

Yet this man, perverted product of a morally degraded race, had about
him something of true dignity; something of sincerity, in a warped,
twisted way. There were times when he seemed to sense vaguely,
gropingly, wonderingly, that he might have a soul.

The Han philosophy for centuries had not admitted the existence of
souls. Its conception embraced nothing but electrons, protons and
molecules, and still was struggling desperately for some shred of
evidence that thoughts, will power and consciousness of self were
nothing but chemical reactions. However, it had gotten no further than
the negative knowledge we had in the Twentieth Century, that a sick body
dulls consciousness of the material world, and that knowledge, which all
mankind has had from the beginning of time, that a dead body means a
departed consciousness. They had succeeded in producing, by synthesis,
what appeared to be living tissues, and even animals of moderately
complex structure and rudimentary brains, but they could not give these
creatures the full complement of life's characteristics, nor raise the
brains to more than mechanical control of muscular tissues.

It was my own opinion that they never could succeed in doing so. This
opinion impressed San-Lan greatly. I had expected him to snort his
disgust, as the extreme school of evolutionists would have done in the
Twentieth Century. But the idea was as new to him and the scientists of
his court as Darwinism was to the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth
Centuries. So it was received with much respect. Painfully and with
enforced mental readjustments, they began a philosophical search for
excuses and justifications for the idea.

       *       *       *       *       *

All of this amused me greatly, for of course neither the newness nor the
orthodoxy of a hypothesis will make it true if it is not true, nor
untrue if it is true. Nor could the luck or will-power, with which I had
resisted their hypnotists and psychoanalysts, make what might or might
not be a universal fact one whit more or less of a fact than it really
was. But the prestige I had gained among them, and the novelty of my
expressed opinion carried much weight with them.

Yet, did not even brilliant scientists frequently exhibit the same lack
of logic back in the Twentieth Century? Did not the historians, the
philosophers of ancient Greece and Rome show themselves to be the same
shrewd observers as those of succeeding centuries, the same masters of
the logical and slaves of the illogical?

After all, I reflected, man makes little progress within himself.
Through succeeding generations he piles up those resources which he
possesses outside of himself, the tools of his hands, and the
warehouses of knowledge for his brain, whether they be parchment
manuscripts, printed book, or electronorecordographs. For the rest he is
born today, as in ancient Greece, with a blank brain, and struggles
through to his grave, with a more or less beclouded understanding, and
with distinct limitations to what we used to call his "think tank."

       *       *       *       *       *

This particular reflection of mine proved unpopular with them, for it
stabbed their vanity, and neither my prestige nor the novelty of the
idea was sufficient salve. These Hans for centuries had believed and
taught their children that they were a super-race, a race of destiny.
Destined to Whom, for What, was not so clear to them; but nevertheless
destined to "elevate" humanity to some sort of super-plane. Yet through
these same centuries they had been busily engaged in the extermination
of "weaklings," whom, by their very persecutions, they had turned into
"super men," now rising in mighty wrath to destroy them; and in reducing
themselves to the depths of softening vice and flabby moral fiber. Is it
strange that they looked at me in amazed wonder when I laughed outright
in the midst of some of their most serious speculations?




CHAPTER IX

The Fall of Nu-Yok


My position among the Hans, in this period, was a peculiar one. I was at
once a closely guarded prisoner and an honored guest. San-Lan told me
frankly that I would remain the latter only so long as I remained an
object of serious study or mental diversion to himself or his court. I
made bold to ask him what would be done with me when I ceased to be
such.

"Naturally," he said, "you will be eliminated. What else? It takes the
services of fifteen men altogether, to guard you; and men, you
understand, cannot be produced and developed in less than eighteen
years." He meditated frowningly for a moment. "That, by the way, is
something I must take up with the Birth and Educational Bureau. They
must develop some method of speeding growth, even at the cost of mental
development. With your wild forest men getting out of hand this way, we
are going to need greater resources of population, and need them badly.

"But," he continued more lightly, "there seems to be no need for you to
disturb yourself over the prospect at present. It is true you have been
able to resist our psychoanalysts and hypnotists, and so have no value
to us from the viewpoint of military information, but as a philosopher,
you have proved interesting indeed."

He broke off to give his attention to a gorgeously uniformed official
who suddenly appeared on the large viewplate that formed one wall of the
apartment. So perfectly did this mechanism operate, that the man might
have been in the room with us. He made a low obeisance, then rose to his
full height and looked at his ruler with malicious amusement.

"Heaven-Born," he said, "I have the exquisite pain of reporting bad
news."

San-Lan gave him a scathing look. "It will be less unpleasant if I am
not distracted by the sight of you while you report."

At this the man disappeared, and the viewplate once more presented its
normal picture of the mountains north of Lo-Tan; but the voice
continued:

"Heaven-Born, the Nu-Yok fleet has been destroyed, the city is in ruins,
and the newly formed ground brigades, reduced to 10,000 men, have taken
refuge in the hills of Ron-Dak (the Adirondacks) where they are being
pressed hard by the tribesmen, who have surrounded them."

       *       *       *       *       *

For an instant San-Lan sat as though paralyzed. Then he leaped to his
feet, facing the viewplate.

"Let me see you!" he snarled. Instantly the mountain view disappeared
and the Intelligence Officer appeared again, this time looking a little
frightened.

"Where is Lui-Lok?" he shouted. "Cut him in on my north plate. The
commander who loses his city dies by torture. Cut him in. Cut him in!"

"Heaven-Born, Lui-Lok committed suicide. He leaped into a ray, when the
rockets of the tribesmen began to penetrate the ray-wall. Lip-Hung is in
command of the survivors. We have just had a message from him. We could
not understand all of it. Reception was very weak because he is
operating with emergency apparatus on Bah-Flo power. The Nu-Yok power
broadcast plant has been blown up. Lip-Hung begs for a rescue fleet."

San-Lan, his expression momentarily becoming more vicious, now was
striding up and down the room, while the poor wretch in the viewplate,
thoroughly scared at last, stood trembling.

"What!" shrieked the tyrant. "He begs a rescue. A rescue of what? Of
10,000 beaten men and nothing better than makeshift apparatus? No fleet?
No city? I give him and his 10,000 to the tribesmen! They are of no use
to us now! Get out! Vanish! No, wait! Have any of the beasts' rockets
penetrated the ray-walls of other cities?"

"No, Heaven-Born, no. It is only at Nu-Yok that the tribesmen used
rockets sheathed in the same mysterious substance they use on their
little aircraft and which cannot be disintegrated by the ray." (He meant
inertron, of course.)

San-Lan waved his hand in dismissal. The officer dissolved from view,
and the mountains once more appeared, as though the whole side of the
room were of glass.

More slowly he paced back and forth. He was the caged tiger now, his
face seamed with hate and the desperation of foreshadowed doom.

"Driven out into the hills," he muttered to himself. "Not more than
10,000 of them left. Hunted like beasts--and by the very beasts we
ourselves have hunted for centuries. Cursed be our ancestors for letting
a single one of the spawn live!" He shook his clenched hands above his
head. Then, suddenly remembering me, he turned and glared.

"Forest man, what have you to say?" he demanded.

Thus confronted, there stole over me that same detached feeling that
possessed me the day I had been made Boss of the Wyomings.

"It is the end of the Air Lords of Han," I said quietly. "For five
centuries command of the air has meant victory. But this is so no
longer. For more than three centuries your great, gleaming cities have
been impregnable in all their arrogant visibility. But that day is done
also. Victory returns once more to the ground, to men invisible in the
vast expanse of the forest which covers the ruins of the civilization
destroyed by your ancestors. Ye have sown destruction. Ye shall reap it!

"Your ancestors thought they had made mere beasts of the American race.
Physically you did reduce them to the state of beasts. But men do have
souls, San-Lan, and in their souls the Americans still cherished the
spark of manhood, of honor, of independence. While the Hans have
degenerated into a race of sleek, pampered beasts themselves, they have
unwittingly bred a race of super-men out of those they sought to make
animals. You have bred your own destruction. Your cities shall be
blasted from their foundations. Your air fleets shall be brought
crashing to earth. You have your choice of dying in the wreckage, or of
fleeing to the forests, there to be hunted down and killed as you have
sought to destroy us!"

And the ruler of all the Hans shrank back from my outstretched finger as
though it had been in truth the finger of doom.

But only for a moment. Suddenly he snarled and crouched as though to
spring at me with his bare hands. By a mighty convulsion of the will he
regained control of himself, however, and assumed a manner of quiet
dignity. He even smiled--a slow, crooked smile.

"No," he said, answering his own thought. "I will not have you killed
now. You shall live on, my honored guest, to see with your own eyes how
we shall exterminate your animal-brethren in their forests. With your
own ears you shall hear their dying shrieks. The cold science of Han is
superior to your spurious knowledge. We have been careless. To our cost
we have let you develop brains of a sort. But we are still superior. We
shall go down into the forests and meet you. We shall beat you in your
own element. When you have seen and heard this happen, my Council shall
devise for you a death by scientific torture, such as no man in the
history of the world has been honored with."

       *       *       *       *       *

I must digress here a bit from my own personal adventures to explain
briefly how the fall of Nu-Yok came about, as I learned it afterward.

Upon my capture by the Hans, my wife, Wilma, courageously had assumed
command of my Gang, the Wyomings.

Boss Handan, of the Winslows, who was directing the American forces
investing Nu-Yok, contented himself for several weeks with maintaining
our lines, while waiting for the completion of the first supply of
inertron-jacketed rockets. At last they arrived with a limited quantity
of very high-powered atomic shells, a trifle over a hundred of them to
be exact. But this number, it was estimated, would be enough to reduce
the city to ruins. The rockets were distributed, and the day for the
final bombardment was set.

The Hans, however, upset Handan's plans by launching a ground expedition
up the west bank of the Hudson. Under cover of an air raid to the
southwest, in which the bulk of their ships took part, this ground
expedition shot northward in low-flying ships.

The raiding air fleet ploughed deep into our lines in their famous
"cloud-bank" formation, with down-playing disintegrator rays so
concentrated as to form a virtual curtain of destruction. It seared a
scar path a mile and a half wide fifteen miles into our territory.

Everyone of our rocket gunners caught in this section was annihilated.
Altogether we lost several hundred men and girls.

Gunners to each side of the raiding ships kept up a continuous fire on
them. Most of the rockets were disintegrated, for Handan would not
permit the use of the inertron rockets against the ships. But now and
then one found its way through the playing beams, hit a repeller ray and
was hurled up against a Han ship, bringing it crashing down.

The orders that Handan barked into his ultrophone were, of course, heard
by every long-gunner in the ring of American forces around the city, and
nearly all of them turned their fire on the Han airfleet, with the
exception of those equipped with the inertron rockets.

These latter held to the original target and promptly cut loose on the
city with a shower of destruction which the disintegrator-ray walls
could not stop. The results produced awe even in our own ranks.

       *       *       *       *       *

Where an instant before had stood the high-flung masses and towers of
Nu-Yok, gleaming red, blue and gold in the brilliant sunlight, and
shimmering through the iridescence of the ray "wall," there was a
seething turmoil of gigantic explosions.

Surging billows of debris were hurled skyward on gigantic pulsations of
blinding light, to the detonations that shook men from their feet in
many sections of the American line seven and eight miles away.

As I have said, there were only some hundred of the inertron rockets
among the Americans, long and slender, to fit the ordinary guns, but the
atomic laboratories hidden beneath the forests, had outdone themselves
in their construction. Their release of atomic force was nearly 100 per
cent, and each one of them was equal to many hundred tons of
trinitrotoluol, which I had known in the First World War, five hundred
years before, as "T.N.T."

It was all over in a few seconds. Nu-Yok had ceased to exist, and the
waters of the bay and the rivers were pouring into the vast hole where a
moment before had been the rocky strata beneath lower Manhattan.

Naturally, with the destruction of the city's power-broadcasting plant
the Han air fleet had plunged to earth.

But the ships of the ground expedition up the river, hugging the tree
tops closely, had run the gauntlet of the American long-gunners who were
busily shooting at the other Han fleet, high in the air to the
southwest, and about half of them had landed before their ships were
robbed of their power. The other half crashed, taking some 10,000 or
12,000 Han troops to destruction with them. But from those which had
landed safely, emerged the 10,000 who now were the sole survivors of
the city, and who took refuge in wooded fastnesses of the Adirondacks.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Americans with their immensely greater mobility, due to their
jumping belts and their familiarity with the forest, had them ringed in
within twenty-four hours.

But owing to the speed of the maneuvers, the lines were not as tightly
drawn as they might have been, and there was considerable scattering of
both American and Han units. The Hans could make only the weakest
short-range use of their newly developed disintegrator-ray field units,
since they had only distant sources of power-broadcast on which to draw.
On the other hand, the Americans could use their explosive rockets only
sparingly for fear of hitting one another.

So the battle was finished in a series of desperate hand-to-hand
encounters in the ravines and mountain slopes of the district.

The Mifflins and Altoonas, themselves from rocky, mountainous sections,
gave a splendid account of themselves in this fighting, leaping to the
craggy slopes above the Hans, and driving them down into the ravines,
where they could safely concentrate on them the fire of depressed rocket
guns.

The Susquannas, with their great inertron shields, which served them
well against the weak rays of the Hans, pressed forward irresistibly
every time they made a contact with a Han unit, their short-range rocket
guns sending a hail of explosive destruction before them.

But the Delawares, with their smaller shields, inertron leg-guards and
helmets, and their ax-guns, made faster work of it. They would rush the
Hans, shooting from their shields as they closed in, and finish the
business with their ax-blades and the small rocket guns that formed the
handles of their axes.

It was my own unit of Wyomings, equipped with bayonet guns not unlike
the rifles of the First World War, that took the most terrible toll from
the Hans.

They advanced at the double, laying a continuous barrage before them as
they ran, closing with the enemy in great leaps, cutting, thrusting and
slicing with those terrible double-ended weapons in a vicious efficiency
against which the Hans with their swords, knives and spears were utterly
helpless.

And so my prediction that the war would develop hand-to-hand fighting
was verified at the outset.

None of the details of this battle of the Ron-Daks were ever known in
Lo-Tan. Not more than the barest outlines of the destruction of the
survivors of Nu-Yok were ever received by San-Lan and his Council. And
of course, at that time I knew no more about it than they did.




CHAPTER X

Life in Lo-Tan, the Magnificent


San-Lan's attitude toward me underwent a change. He did not seek my
company as he had done before, and so those long discussions and mental
duels in which we pitted our philosophies against each other came to an
end. I was, I suspected, an unpleasant reminder to him of things he
would rather forget, and my presence was an omen of impending doom. That
he did not order my execution forthwith was due, I believe to a sort of
fascination in me, as the personification of this (to him) strange and
mysterious race of super-men who had so magically developed overnight
from "beasts" of the forest.

But though I saw little of him after this, I remained a member of his
household, if one may speak of a "household" where there is no semblance
of house.

The imperial apartments were located at the very summit of the Imperial
Tower, the topmost pinnacle of the city, itself clinging to the sides
and peak of the highest mountain in that section of the Rockies. There
were days when the city seemed to be built on a rugged island in the
midst of a sea of fleecy whiteness, for frequently the cloud level was
below the peak. And on such days the only visual communications with the
world below was through the viewplates which formed nearly all the
interior walls of the thousands of apartments (for the city was, in
fact, one vast building) and upon which the tenants could tune in almost
any views they wished from an elaborate system of public television and
projectoscope broadcasts.

Every Han city had many public-view broadcasting stations, operating on
tuning ranges which did not interfere with other communication systems.
For slight additional fees a citizen in Lo-Tan might, if he felt so
inclined, "visit" the seashore, or the lakes or the forests of any part
of the country, for when such scene was thrown on the walls of an
apartment, the effect was precisely the same as if one were gazing
through a vast window at the scene itself.

It was possible too, for a slightly higher fee, to make a mutual
connection between apartments in the same or different cities, so that a
family in Lo-Tan, for instance, might "visit" friends in Fis-Ko (San
Francisco) taking their apartment, so to speak, along with them; being
to all intents and purposes separated from their "hosts" only by a big
glass wall which interfered neither with vision nor conversation.

These public view and visitation projectoscopes explain that utter depth
of laziness into which the Hans had been dragged by their civilization.
There was no incentive for anyone to leave his apartment unless he was
in the military or air service, or a member of one of the repair
services which from time to time had to scoot through the corridors and
shafts of the city, somewhat like the ancient fire departments, to make
some emergency repair to the machinery of the city or its electrical
devices.

       *       *       *       *       *

Why should he leave his house? Food, wonderful synthetic concoctions of
any desired flavor and consistency (and for additional fee conforming to
the individual's dietary prescription) came to him through a shaft, from
which his tray slid automatically on to a convenient shelf or table.

At will he could tune in a theatrical performance of talking pictures.
He could visit and talk with his friends. He breathed the freshest of
filtered air right in his own apartment, at any temperature he desired,
fragrant with the scent of flowers, the aromatic smell of the pine
forests or the salt tang of the sea, as he might prefer. He could
"visit" his friends at will, and though his apartment actually might be
buried many thousand feet from the outside wall of the city, it was none
the less an "outside" one, by virtue of its viewplate walls. There was
even a tube system, with trunk, branch and local lines and an
automagnetic switching system, by which articles within certain size
limits could be despatched from any apartment to any other one in the
city.

The women actually moved about through the city more than the men, for
they had no fixed duties. No work was required of them, and though
nominally free, their dependence upon the government pension for their
necessities and on their "husbands" (of the moment) for their luxuries,
reduced them virtually to the condition of slaves.

Each had her own apartment in the Lower City, with but a single small
viewplate, very limited "visitation" facilities, and a minimum credit
for food and clothing. This apartment was assigned to her on graduation
from the State School, in which she had been placed as an infant, and it
remained hers so long as she lived, regardless of whether she occupied
it or not. At the conclusion of her various "marriages" she would return
there, pending her endeavors to make a new match. Naturally, as her
years increased, her returns became more frequent and her stay of longer
duration, until finally, abandoning hope of making another match, she
finished out her days there, usually in drunkenness and whatever other
forms of cheap dissipation she could afford on her dole, starving
herself.

Men also received the same State pension, sufficient for the necessities
but not for the luxuries of life. They got it only as an old-age
pension, and on application.

       *       *       *       *       *

When boys graduated from the State School they generally were "adopted"
by their fathers and taken into the latter's households, where they
enjoyed luxuries far in excess of their own earning power. It was not
that their fathers wasted any affection on them, for as I have explained
before, the Hans were so morally atrophied and scientifically developed
that love and affection, as we Americans knew them, were unexperienced
or suppressed emotions with them. They were replaced by lust and pride
of possession. So long as it pleased a father's vanity, and he did not
miss the cost, he would keep a son with him, but no longer.

Young men, of course, started to work at the minimum wage, which was
somewhat higher than the pension. There was work for everybody in
positions of minor responsibility, but very little hard work.

Upon receiving his appointment from one or another of the big
corporations which handled the production and distribution of the vast
community (the shares of which were pooled and held by the
government--that is, by San-Lan himself--in trust for all the workers,
according to their positions) he would be assigned to an
apartment-office, or an apartment adjoining the group of offices in
which he was to have his desk. Most of the work was done in single
apartment-offices.

The young man, for instance, might recline at his ease in his apartment
near the top of the city, and for three or four hours a day inspect,
through his viewplate and certain specially installed apparatus, the
output of a certain process in one of the vast automatically controlled
food factories buried far underground beneath the base of the mountain,
where the moan of its whirring and throbbing machinery would not disturb
the peace and quiet of the citizens on the mountain top. Or he might be
required simply to watch the operation of an account machine in an
automatic store.

There is no denying that the economic system of the Hans was marvelous.
A suit of clothes, for instance, might be delivered in a man's apartment
without a human hand having ever touched it.

Having decided that he wished a suit of a given general style, he would
simply tune in a visual broadcast of the display of various selections,
and when he had made his choice, dial the number of the item and press
the order button. Simultaneously the charge would be automatically made
against his account number, and credited as a sale on the automatic
records of that particular factory in the account house. And his account
plate, hidden behind a little wall door, would register his new credit
balance. An automatically packaged suit that had been made to style and
size-standard by automatic machinery from synthetically produced
material, would slip into the delivery chute, magnetically addressed,
and in anywhere from a few seconds to thirty minutes or so, according to
the volume of business in the chutes, and drop into the delivery basket
in his room.

       *       *       *       *       *

Daily his wages were credited to his account, and monthly his share of
the dividends likewise (according to his position) from the Imperial
Investment Trust, after deduction of taxes (through the automatic
bookkeeping machines) for the support of the city's pensioners and
whatever sum San-Lan himself had chosen to deduct for personal expenses
and gratuities.

A man could not bequeath his ownership interest in industry to his son,
for that interest ceased with his death, but his credit accumulation, on
which interest was paid, was credited to his eldest recorded son as a
matter of law.

Since many of these credit fortunes (The Hans had abandoned gold as a
financial basis centuries before) were so big that they drew interest in
excess of the utmost luxury costs of a single individual, there was a
class of idle rich consisting of eldest sons, passing on these credit
fortunes from generation to generation. But younger sons and women had
no share in these fortunes, except by the whims and favor of the
"Man-Dins" (Mandarins), as these inheritors were known.

These Man-Dins formed a distinct class of the population, and numbered
about five percent of it. It was distinct from the Ku-Li (coolie) or
common people, and from the "Ki-Ling" or aristocracy composed of those
more energetic men (at least mentally more energetic) who were the
active or retired executive heads of the various industrial,
educational, military or political administrations.

A man might, if he so chose, transfer part of his credit to a woman
favorite, which then remained hers for life or until she used it up, and
of course, the prime object of most women, whether as wives, or
favorites, was to beguile a settlement of this sort out of some wealthy
man.

When successful in this, and upon reassuming her freedom, a woman ranked
socially and economically with the Man-Dins. But on her death, whatever
remained of her credit was transferred to the Imperial fund.

When one considers that the Hans, from the days of their exodus from
Mongolia and their conquest of America, had never held any ideal of
monogamy, and the fact that marriage was but a temporary formality which
could be terminated on official notice by either party, and that after
all it gave a woman no real rights or prerogatives that could not be
terminated at the whim of her husband, and established her as nothing
but the favorite of his harem, if he had an income large enough to keep
one, or the most definitely acknowledged of his favorites if he hadn't,
it is easy to see that no such thing as a real family life existed among
them.

Free women roamed the corridors of the city, pathetically importuning
marriage, and wives spent most of the time they were not under their
husbands' watchful eyes in flirtatious attempts to provide themselves
with better prospects for their next marriages.

       *       *       *       *       *

Naturally the biggest problem of the community was that of stimulating
the birth rate. The system of special credits to mothers had begun
centuries before, but had not been very efficacious until women had been
deprived of all other earning power, and even at the time of which I
write it was only partially successful, in spite of the heavy bounties
for children. It was difficult to make the bounties sufficiently
attractive to lure the women from their more remunerative light
flirtations. Eugenic standards also were a handicap.

As a matter of fact, San-Lan had under consideration a revolutionary
change in economic and moral standards, when the revolt of the forest
men upset his delicately laid plans, for, as he had explained to me, it
was no easy thing to upset the customs of centuries in what he was
pleased to call the "morals" of his race.

He had another reason too. The physically active men of the community
were beginning to acquire a rather dangerous domination. These included
men in the army, in the airships, and in those relatively few civilian
activities in which machines could not do the routine work and
thinking. Already common soldiers and air crews demanded and received
higher remuneration than all except the highest of the Ki-Ling, the
industrial and scientific leaders, while mechanics and repairmen who
could, and would, work hard physically, commanded higher incomes than
Princes of the Blood, and though constituting only a fraction of one per
cent of the population they actually dominated the city. San-Lan dared
take no important step in the development of the industrial and military
system without consulting their council or Yun-Yun (Union), as it was
known.

Socially the Han cities were in a chaotic condition at this time,
between morals that were not morals, families that were not families,
marriages that were not marriages, children who knew no homes, work that
was not work, eugenics that didn't work; Ku-Lis who envied the richer
classes but were too lazy to reach out for the rewards freely offered
for individual initiative; the intellectually active and physically lazy
Ki-Lings who despised their lethargy; the Man-Din drones who regarded
both classes with supercilious toleration; the Princes of the Blood,
arrogant in their assumption of a heritage from a Heaven in which they
did not believe; and finally the three castes of the army, air and
industrial repair services, equally arrogant and with more reason in
their consciousness of physical power.

       *       *       *       *       *

The army exercised a cruelly careless and impartial police power over
all classes, including the airmen, when the latter were in port. But it
did not dare to touch the repair men, who, so far as I could ever make
out, roamed the corridors of the city at will during their hours off
duty, wreaking their wills on whomever they met, without let or
hindrance.

Even a Prince of the Blood would withdraw into a side corridor with his
escort of a score of men, to let one of these labor "kings" pass, rather
than risk an altercation which might result in trouble for the
government with the Yun-Yun, regardless of the rights and wrongs of the
case, unless a heavy credit transference was made from the balance of
the Prince to that of the worker. For the machinery of the city could
not continue in operation a fortnight, before some accident requiring
delicate repair work would put it partially out of commission. And the
Yun-Yun was quick to resent anything it could construe as a slight on
one of its members.

In the last analysis it was these Yun-Yun men, numerically the smallest
of the classes, who ruled the Han civilization, because for all
practical purposes they controlled the machinery on which that
civilization depended for its existence.

Politically, San-Lan could balance the organizations of the army and the
air fleets against each other, but he could not break the grip of the
repairmen on the machinery of the cities and the power broadcast plants.




CHAPTER XI

The Forest Men Attack


Many times during the months I remained prisoner among the Hans I had
tried to develop a plan of escape, but could conceive of nothing which
seemed to have any reasonable chance of success.

While I was allowed almost complete freedom within the confines of the
city, and sometimes was permitted to visit even the military outposts
and disintegrator ray batteries in the surrounding mountains, I was
never without a guard of at least five men under the command of an
officer. These men were picked soldiers, and they were armed with
powerful though short-range disintegrator-ray pistols, capable of
annihilating anything within a hundred feet. Their vigilance never
relaxed. The officer on duty kept constantly at my side, or a couple of
paces behind me, while certain of the others were under strict orders
never to approach within my reach, nor to get more than forty feet away
from me. The thought occurred to me once to seize the officer at my side
and use him as a shield, until I found that the guard were under orders
to destroy both of us in such a case.

So in this fashion I roamed the city corridors, wherever I wished. I
visited the great factories at the bottom of the shafts that led to the
base of the mountain, where, unattended by any mechanics, great turbines
whirred and moaned, giant pistons plunged back and forth, and immense
systems of chemical vats, piping and converters, automatically performed
their functions with the assistance of no human hand, but under the
minute television inspection of many perfumed dandies reclining at their
ease before viewplates in their apartment offices in the city, that
clung to the mountain peak far above.

There were just two restrictions on my freedom of movement. I was
allowed nowhere near the power-broadcasting station on the peak, nor the
complement of it which was buried three miles below the base of the
mountain. And I was never allowed to approach within a hundred feet of
any disintegrator ray machine when I visited the military outposts in
the surrounding mountains.

I first noticed the "escape tunnels" one day when I had descended to the
lowest level of all, the location of the Electronic Plant, where
machines, known as "reverse disintegrators," fed with earth and crushed
rock by automatic conveyors, subjected this material to the
disintegrator ray, held the released electrons captive within their
magnetic fields and slowly refashioned them into supplies of metals and
other desired elements.

My attention was attracted to the tunnels by the unusual fact that men
were busily entering and leaving them. Almost the entire repair force
seemed to be concentrated here. Stocky, muscular men they were, with the
same modified Oriental countenances as the rest of the Hans, but with a
certain ruggedness about them that was lacking in the rest of the
indolent population. They sweated as they labored over the construction
of magnetic cars evidently designed to travel down these tunnels,
automatically laying pipe lines for ventilation and temperature control.
The tunnels themselves appeared to have been driven with disintegrator
rays, which could bore rapidly through the solid rock, forming glassy
iridescent walls as they bored, and involving no problem of debris
removal.

       *       *       *       *       *

I asked San-Lan about it the next time I saw him, for the officer of my
guard would give me no information.

The supreme ruler of the Hans smiled mockingly.

"There is no reason why you should not know their purpose," he said,
"for you will never be able to stop our use of them. These tunnels
constitute the road to a new Han era. Your forest men have turned our
cities into traps, but they have not trapped our minds and our powers
over Nature. We are masters still; masters of the world, and of the
forest men.

"You have revolutionized the tactics of warfare with your explosive
rockets and your strategy of fighting from concealed positions, miles
away, where we cannot find you with our beams. You have driven our ships
from the air, and you may destroy our cities. But we shall be gone.

"Down these tunnels we shall depart to our new cities, deep under
ground, and scattered far and wide through the mountains. They are
nearly completed now.

"You will never blast us out of these, even with your most powerful
explosives, because they will be more difficult for you to find than it
is for us to locate a forest gunner somewhere beneath his leafy screen
of miles of trees, and because they will be too far underground."

"But," I objected, "man cannot live and flourish like a mole continually
removed from the light of day, without the health-giving rays of the
sun, which man needs."

"No?" San-Lan jeered. "Wild tribesmen might not be able to, but we are a
civilization. We shall make our own sunlight to order in the bowels of
the earth. If necessary, we can manufacture our air synthetically; not
the germ-laden air of Nature, but absolutely pure air. Our underground
cities will be heated or refrigerated artificially as conditions may
require. Why should we not live underground if we desire? We produce all
our needs synthetically.

"Nor will you be able to locate our cities with electronic indicators.

"You see, Rogers, I know what is in your mind. Our scientists have
planned carefully. All our machinery and processes will be shielded so
that no electronic disturbances will exist at the surface.

"And then, from our underground cities we will emerge at leisure to wage
merciless war on your wild men of the forest, until we have at last done
what our forefathers should have done, exterminated them to the last
beast."

       *       *       *       *       *

He thrust his jeering face close to mine. "Have you any answer to that?"
he demanded.

My impulse was to plant my fist in his face, for I could think of no
other answer. But I controlled myself, and even forced a hearty laugh,
to irritate him.

"It is a fine plan," I admitted, "but you will not have time to carry it
through. Long before you can complete your new cities you will have been
destroyed."

"They will be completed within the week," he replied triumphantly. "We
have not been asleep, and our mechanical and scientific resources make
us masters of time as well as the earth. You shall see."

Naturally I was worried. I would have given much if I could have passed
this information on to our chiefs.

But two days later a mighty exultation arose within me, when from far to
the east and also to the south there came the rolling and continuous
thunder of rocket fire. I was in my own apartment at the time. The Han
captain of my guard was with me, as usual, and two guards stood just
within the door. The others were in the corridor outside. And as soon as
I heard it, I questioned my jailer with a look. He nodded assent, and I
did what probably every disengaged person in Lo-Tan did at the same
moment, tuned in on the local broadcast of the Military Headquarters
View and Control Room.

It was as though the side wall of my apartment had dissolved, and we
looked into a large room or office which had no walls or ceiling, these
being replaced by the interior surface of a hemisphere, which was in
fact a vast viewplate on which those in the room could see in every
direction. Some 200 staff officers had their desks in this room. Each
desk was equipped with a system of small viewplates of its own, and each
officer was responsible for a given directional section of the "map,"
and busied himself with teleprojectoscope examination of it, quite
independently of the general view thrown on the dome plate.

At a raised circular desk in the center, which was composed entirely of
viewplates, sat the Executive Marshal, scanning the hemisphere, calling
occasionally for telescopic views of one section or another on his desk
plates, and noting the little pale green signal lights that flashed up
as Sector Observers called for his attention.

       *       *       *       *       *

Members of Strategy Board, Base Commanders of military units, and
San-Lan himself, I understood, sat at similar desks in their private
offices, on which all these views were duplicated, and in constant
verbal and visual communication with one another and with the Executive
Marshal.

The particular view which appeared on my own wall fortunately showed the
east side of the dome viewplate and in one corner of my picture appeared
the Executive Marshal himself.

Although I was getting a viewplate picture of a viewplate picture, I
could see the broad, rugged valley to the east plainly, and the
relatively low ridge beyond, which must have been some thirty miles
away.

It was beyond this, evidently far beyond it, that the scene of the
action was located, for nothing showed on the plate but a misty haze
permeated by indefinite and continuous pulsations of light, and against
which the low mountain ridge stood out in bold relief.

Somewhere on the floor of the Observation room, of course, was a Sector
Observer who was looking beyond that ridge, probably through a
projectoscope station in the second or third "circle," located perhaps
on that ridge or beyond it.

At the very moment I was wishing for his facilities the Executive
Marshal leaned over to a microphone and gave an order in a low tone.
The hemispherical view dissolved, and another took its place, from the
third circle. And the view was now that which would be seen by a man
standing on the low distant ridge.

There was another broad valley, a wide and deep canyon, in fact, and
beyond this still another ridge, the outlines of which were already
beginning to fade into the on-creeping haze of the barrage. The flashes
of the great detonating rockets were momentarily becoming more vivid.

"That's the Gok-Man ridge," mused the Han officer beside me in the
apartment, "and the Forest Men must be more than fifty miles beyond
that."

"How do you figure that?" I asked curiously.

"Because obviously they have not penetrated our scout lines. See that
line of observers nearest the dome itself. They're all busy with their
desk plates. They're in communication with the scout line. The scout
line broadcast is still in operation. It looks as though the line is
still unpierced, but the tribesmen's rockets are sailing over and
falling this side of it."

All through the night the barrage continued. At times it seemed to creep
closer and then recede again. Finally it withdrew, pulling back to the
American lines, to alternately advance and recede. At last I went to
sleep. The Han officer seemed to be a relatively good-natured fellow,
for one of his race, and he promised to awake me if anything further of
interest took place.

He didn't though. When I awoke in the morning, he gave me a brief
outline of what had happened.

It was pieced together from his own observations and the public news
broadcast.




CHAPTER XII

The Mysterious "Air Balls"


The American barrage had been a long distance bombardment, designed,
apparently, to draw the Han disintegrator ray batteries into operation
and so reveal their positions on the mountain tops and slopes, for the
Hans, after the destruction of Nu-Yok, had learned quickly that
concealment of their positions was a better protection than a
surrounding wall of disintegrator rays shooting up into the sky.

The Hans, however, had failed to reply with disintegrator rays. For
already this arm, which formerly they had believed invincible, was being
restricted to a limited number of their military units, and their
factories were busy turning out explosive rockets not dissimilar to
those of the Americans in their motive power and atomic detonation.
They had replied with these, shooting them from unrevealed positions,
and at the estimated positions of the Americans.

Since the Americans, not knowing the exact location of the Han outer
line, had shot their barrage over it, and the Hans had fired at unknown
American positions, this first exchange of fire had done little more
than to churn up vast areas of mountain and valley.

The Hans appeared to be elated, to feel that they had driven off an
American attack. I knew better. The next American move, I felt, would be
the occupation of the air, from which they had driven the Hans, and from
swoopers to direct the rocket fire at the city itself. Then, when they
had destroyed this, they would sweep in and hunt down the Hans, man to
man, in the surrounding mountains. Command of the air was still
important in military strategy, but command of the air rested no longer
in the air, but on the ground.

The Hans themselves attempted to scout the American positions from the
air, under cover of a massed attack of ships in "cloud bank" or beaming
formation, but with very little success. Most of their ships were shot
down, and the remainder slid back to the city on sharply inclined
repeller rays, one of them which had its generators badly damaged while
still fifty miles out, collapsed over the city, before it could reach
its berth at the airport, and crashed down through the glass roof of the
city, doing great damage.

Then followed the "air balls," an unforeseen and ingenious resurrection
by the Americans of an old principle of air and submarine tactics,
through a modern application of the principle of remote control.

The air balls took heavy toll of the morale of the Hans before they were
clearly understood by them, and even afterward for that matter.

       *       *       *       *       *

Their first appearance was quite mysterious. One uneasy night, while the
pulsating growl of the distant barrage kept the nerves of the city's
inhabitants on edge, there was an explosion near the top of a pinnacle
not far from the Imperial Tower. It occurred at the 732nd level, and
caused the structure above it to lean and sag, though it did not fall.

Repair men who shot up the shafts a few minutes later to bring new
broadcast lamps to replace those which had been shattered, reported what
seemed to be a sphere of metal, about three feet in diameter, with a
four-inch lens in it, floating slowly down the shaft, as though it were
some living creature making a careful examination, pausing now and then
as its lens swung about like a great single eye. The moment this "eye"
turned upon them, they said, the ball "rushed" down on them, crushing
several to death in its vicious gyrations, and jamming the mechanism of
the elevator, though failing to crash through it. Then, said the wounded
survivors, it floated back up the shaft, watchfully "eyeing" them, and
slipped off to the side at the wrecked level.

The next night several of these "air balls" were seen, following
explosions in various towers and sections of the city roof and walls. In
each case repair gangs were "rushed" by them, and suffered many
casualties. On the third night a few of the air balls were destroyed by
the repair men and guards, who now were equipped with disintegrator
pistols.

This, however, was pretty costly business, for in each case the ray
bored into the corridor and shaft walls beyond its target, wrecking much
machinery, injuring the structural members of that section, penetrating
apartments and taking a number of lives. Moreover, the "air balls,"
being destroyed, could not be subjected to scientific inspection.

After this the explosions ceased. But for many days the sudden
appearances of those "air balls" in the corridors and shafts of the city
caused the greatest confusion, and many times they were the cause of
death and panic.

At times they released poison gases, and not infrequently themselves
burst, instead of withdrawing, in a veritable explosion of disease
germs, requiring absolute quarantine by the Han medical department.

There was an utter heartlessness about the defense of the Han
authorities, who considered nothing but the good of the community as a
whole; for when they established these quarantines, they did not
hesitate to seal up thousands of the city's inhabitants behind hermetic
barriers enclosing entire sections of different levels, where deprived
of food and ventilation, the wretched inhabitants died miserably, long
before the disease germs developed in their systems.

       *       *       *       *       *

At the end of two weeks the entire population of the city was in a mood
of panicky revolt. News service to the public had been suspended, and
the use of all viewplates and phones in the city were restricted to
official communications. The city administration had issued orders that
all citizens not on duty should keep to their apartments, but the order
was openly flouted, and small mobs were wandering through the corridors,
ascending and descending from one level to another, seeking they knew
not what, fleeing the air balls, which might appear anywhere, and being
driven back from the innermost and deepest sections of the city by the
military guard.

I now made up my mind that the time was ripe for me to attempt my
escape. In all this confusion I might have an even break, in spite of
the danger I might myself run from the air balls, and the almost
insuperable difficulties of making my way to the outside of the city and
down the precipitous walls of the mountain to which the city clung like
a cap. I would have given much for my inertron belt, that I might simply
have leaped outward from the edge of the roof some dark night and
floated gently down. I longed for my ultrophone equipment, with which I
might have established communication with the beleaguering American
forces.

My greatest difficulty, I knew, would be that of escaping my guard. Once
free of them, I figured it would be the business of nobody in
particular, in that badly disorganized city, to recapture me. The knives
of the ordinary citizens I did not fear, and very few of the military
guard were armed with disintegrator pistols.

I was sitting in my apartment busying my mind with various plans, when
there occurred a commotion in the city corridor outside my door. The
captain of my guard jumped nervously from the couch on which he had been
reclining, and ordered the excited guards to open the door.

In the broad corridor, the remainder of the guard lay about, dead or
groaning, where they had been bowled over by one of these air balls, the
first I had ever seen.

The metal sphere floated hesitantly above its victims, turning this way
and that to bring its "eye" on various objects around. It stopped dead
on sighting the door the guard had thrown open, hesitated a moment, and
then shot suddenly into the apartment with a hissing sound, flinging
into a far corner one of the guards who had not been quick enough to
duck. As the captain drew his disintegrator pistol, it launched itself
at him with a vicious hiss. He bounded back from the impact, his chest
crushed in, while his pistol, which fortunately had fallen with its
muzzle pointed away from me, shot a continuous beam that melted its way
instantly through the apartment wall.

       *       *       *       *       *

The sphere then turned on the other guard, who had thrown himself into a
corner where he crouched in fear. Deliberately it seemed to gauge the
distance and direction. Then it hurled itself at him with another
vicious hiss, which I now saw came from a little rocket motor, crushing
him to death where he lay.

It swung slowly around until the lens faced me again, and floated gently
into position level with my face, seeming to scan me with its blank,
four-inch eye. Then it spoke, with a metallic voice.

"If you are an American," it said, "answer with your name, gang and
position."

"I am Anthony Rogers," I replied, still half bewildered, "Boss of the
Wyomings. I was captured by the Hans after my swooper was disabled in a
fight with a Han airship and had drifted many hundred miles westward.
These Hans you have killed were my guard."

"Good!" ejaculated the metal ball. "We have been hunting for you with
these remote control rockets for two weeks. We knew you had been
captured. A Han message was picked up. Close the door of your room, and
hide this ball somewhere. I have turned off the rocket power. Put it on
your couch. Throw some pillows over it. Get out of sight. We'll speak
softly, so no Hans can hear, and we'll speak only when you speak to us."

The ball, I found, was floating freely in the air. So perfectly was it
balanced with ultron and inertron that it had about the weight of a
spider web. Ultimately, I suppose, it would have settled to the floor.
But I had no time for such an idle experiment. I quickly pushed it to my
couch, where I threw a couple of pillows and some of the bed clothes
over it. Then I threw myself back on the couch with my head near it. If
the dead guards outside attracted attention, and the Han patrol entered,
I could report the attack by the "air ball" and claim that I had been
knocked unconscious by it.

"One moment," said the ball, after I reported myself ready to talk.
"Here is someone who wants to speak to you." And I nearly leaped from
the couch with joy when, despite the metallic tone of the instrument, I
recognized the eager, loving voice of my wife, almost hysterical in her
own joy at talking to me again.




CHAPTER XIII

Escape!


We had little time, however, to waste in endearments, and very little to
devote to informing me as to the American plans. The essential thing
was that I report the Han plans and resources to the fullest of my
ability. And for an hour or two I talked steadily, giving an outline of
all I had learned from San-Lan and his Councillors, and particularly of
the arrangements for drawing off the population of the city to new
cities concealed underground, through the system of tunnels radiating
from the base of the mountain. And as a result, the Americans determined
to speed up their attack.

There were, as a matter of fact, only two relatively small commands
facing the city, Wilma told me, but both of them were picked troops of
the new Federal Council. Those to the south were a division of veterans
who a few weeks before had destroyed the Han city of Sa-Lus (St. Louis).
On the east were a number of the Colorado Gangs and an expeditionary
force of our own Wyomings. The attack on Lo-Tan was intended chiefly as
an attack on the morale of the Hans of the other twelve cities. If there
seemed to be a chance of victory, the operations were to be pushed
through. Otherwise the object would be to do as much damage as possible,
and fade away into the forests if the Hans developed any real pressure
with their new infantry and field batteries of rocket guns and
disintegrator-rays.

The "air balls" were simply miniature swoopers of spherical shape,
ultronically controlled by operators at control boards miles away, and
who saw on their viewplates whatever picture the ultronic television
lens in the sphere itself picked up at the predetermined focus. The main
propulsive rocket motor was diametrically opposite the lens, so that the
sphere could be steered simply by keeping the picture of its objective
centered on the crossed hairlines of the viewplates. The outer shell
moved magnetically as desired with respect to the core, which was
gyroscopically stabilized. Auxiliary rocket motors enabled the operator
to make a sphere move sidewise, backward or vertically. Some of these
spheres were equipped with devices which enabled their operators to hear
as well as see through their ultronic broadcasts, and most of those
which had invaded the interior of Lo-Tan were equipped with "speakers,"
in the hope of finding me and establishing communication. Still others
were equipped for two-stage control. That is, the operator control led
the vision sphere, and through it watched and steered an air torpedo
that travelled ahead of it.

The Han airship or any other target selected by the operator of such a
combination was doomed. There was no escape. The spheres and torpedoes
were too small to be hit. They could travel with the speed of bullets.
They could trail a ship indefinitely, hover a safe distance from their
mark, and strike at will. Finally, neither darkness nor smoke screens
were any bar to their ultronic vision. The spheres, which had penetrated
and explored Lo-Tan in their search for me, had floated through breaches
in the walls and roofs made by their advance torpedoes.

       *       *       *       *       *

Wilma had just finished explaining all this to me when I heard a noise
outside my door. With a whispered warning I flung myself back on the
couch and simulated unconsciousness. When I did not answer the poundings
and calls to open, a police detail broke in and shook me roughly.

"The air ball," I moaned, pretending to regain consciousness slowly. "It
came in from the corridor. Look what it did to the guard. It must have
grazed my head. Where is it?"

"Gone," muttered the under-officer, looking fearfully around. "Yes,
undoubtedly gone. These men have been dead some time. And this pistol.
The ball got him before he had a chance to use it. See, it has beamed
through the wall only here, where he dropped it. Who are you? You look
like a tribesman. Oh, yes, you're the Heaven-Born's special prisoner.
Maybe I ought to beam you right now. Good thing. Everyone would call it
an accident. By the Grand Dragon, I will!"

While he was talking, I had staggered to the other side of the room, to
draw his attention away from the couch where the ball was concealed.

Now suddenly the pillows burst apart, and a blanket with which I had
covered the thing streaked from the couch, hitting the man in the small
of the back. I could hear his spine snap under the impact. Then it shot
through the air toward the group of soldiers in the doorway, bowling
them over and sending them shrieking right and left along the corridor.
Relentlessly and with amazing speed it launched itself at each in turn,
until the corpses lay grotesquely strewn about, and not one had escaped.

It returned to me for all the world like an old-fashioned ghost, the
blanket still draped over it (and not interfering with its ultronic
vision in the least) and "stood" before me.

"The yellow devils were going to kill you, Tony," I heard Wilma's voice
saying. "You've got to get out of there, Tony, before you are killed.
Besides, we need you at the control boards, where you can make real use
of your knowledge of the city. Have you your jumping belt, ultrophone
and rocket gun?"

"No," I replied, "they are all gone."

"It would be no good for you to try to make your way to one of the
breaches in the wall, nor to the roof," she mused.

"No, they are too well guarded," I replied, "and even if you made a new
one at a predetermined spot I'm afraid the repair men and the patrol
would go to it ahead of me."

"Yes, and they would beam you before you could climb inside of a
swooper," she added.

"I'll tell you what I can do, Wilma," I suggested. "I know my way about
the city pretty well. Suppose I go down one of the shafts to the base of
the mountain. I think I can get out. It is dark in the valley, so the
Hans cannot see me, and I will stand out in the open, where your
ultroscopes can pick me up. Then a swooper can drop quickly down and get
me."

"Good!" Wilma said. "But take that Han's disintegrator pistol with you.
And go right away, Tony. But wrap this ball in something and carry it
with you. Just toss it from you if you are attacked. I'll stay at the
control board and operate it in case of emergency."

       *       *       *       *       *

So I picked up ball and pistol, and thrust the hand in which I held it
into the loose Han blouse I wore, wrapped the ball in a piece of
sheeting, and stepped out in the corridor, hurrying toward the nearest
magnetic car station, a couple of hundred feet down the corridor, for I
had to cross nearly the entire width of the city to reach the shaft that
went to the base of the mountain.

I thanked Providence for the perfection of the Han mechanical devices
when I reached the station. The automatic checking system of these cars
made station attendants unnecessary. I had only to slip the key I had
taken from the dead Han officer into the account-charting machine at the
station to release a car.

Pressing the proper combinations of main and branch line buttons, I
seated myself, holding the pistol ready but concealed beneath my blouse.
The car shot with rapid acceleration down the narrow tunnel.

The tubes in which these magnetic cars (which slid along a few inches
above the floor of the tunnel by localized repeller rays) ran were very
narrow, just the width of the car, and my only danger would come if on
catching up to another car its driver should turn around and look in my
face. If I kept my face to the front, and hunched over so as to conceal
my size, no driver of a following car would suspect that I was not a
Han like himself.

The tube dipped under traffic as it came to a trunk line, and my car
magnetically lagged, until an opening in the traffic permitted it to
swing swiftly into the main line tunnel. At the automatic distance of
ten feet it followed a car in which rode a scantily clad girl, her
flimsy silks fluttering in the rush of air. I cursed my luck. She would
be far more likely to turn around than a man, to see if a man were in
the car behind, and if he were personable--for not even the impending
doom of the city and the public demoralization caused by the "air balls"
had dulled the proclivities of the Han women for brazen flirtation. And
turn around she did.

Before I could lower my head she had seen my face, and knew I was no
Han. I saw her eyebrows arch in surprise. But she seemed puzzled rather
than scared. Before she could make up her mind about me, however, her
car had swung out of the main tunnel on its predetermined course, and my
own automatically was closing up the gap to the car ahead. The passenger
in this one wore the uniform of a medical officer, but he did not turn
around before I swung out of main traffic to the little station at the
head of the shaft.

This particular shaft was intended to serve the very lowest levels
exclusively, and since its single car carried nothing but express
traffic, it was used only by repair men and other specialists who
occasionally had to descend to those levels.

       *       *       *       *       *

There were only three people on the little platform, which reminded me
very much of the subway stations of the Twentieth Century. Two men and a
girl stood facing the gate of the shaft, waiting for the car to return
from below. One of these was a soldier, apparently off duty, for though
he wore the scarlet military coat he carried no weapons other than his
knife. The other man wore nothing but sandals and a pair of loose short
pants of some heavy and serviceable material. I did not need to look at
the compact tool kit and the ray machines attached to his heavy belt,
nor the gorgeously jewelled armlet and diadem that he wore to know him
for a repair man.

The girl was quite scantily clad, but wore a mask, which was not unusual
among the Han women when they went forth on their flirtatious
expeditions, and there was something about the sinuous grace of her
movements that seemed familiar to me. She was making desperate love to
the repair man, whose attitude toward her was that of pleased but lofty
tolerance. The soldier, who was seeking no trouble, occupied himself
strictly with his own thoughts and paid little attention to them.

I stepped from my car, still carrying my bundle in which the "air ball"
was concealed, and the car shot away as I threw the release lever over.
Not so successful as the soldier in simulating lack of interest in the
amorous girl and her companion, I drew from the latter a stare of
haughty challenge, and the girl herself turned to look at me through her
mask.

She gasped as she did so, and shrank back in alarm. And I knew her then
in spite of her mask. She was the favorite of the Heaven-Born himself.

"Ngo-Lan!" I exclaimed before I could catch myself.

At the mention of her name, the soldier's head jerked up quickly, and
the girl herself gave a little cry of terror, shrinking against her
burly companion. This would mean death for her if it reached the ears of
her lord.

And her companion, arrogant in his immunity as a repair man, hesitated
not a second. His arm shot out toward the soldier, who was nearer to him
than I. There was the flash of a knife blade, and the soldier sagged on
his feet, then tumbled over like a sack of potatoes, and before my mind
had grasped the danger, he had swept the girl aside and was springing at
me.

       *       *       *       *       *

That I lived for a moment even was due to the devotion of my wife,
Wilma, who somewhere in the mountains to the east was standing loyally
before the control board of the air ball I carried.

For even as the Han leaped at me, the bundle containing the air ball,
which I had placed at my feet, shot diagonally upward, catching the
fellow in the middle of his leap, hurling him back against the grilled
gate of the elevator shaft, and pinning his lifeless body there.

An instant the girl gazed in speechless horror at what had been her
secret lover, then she threw herself at my feet, writhing and shrieking
in terror.

At this moment, the elevator shot to a sudden stop behind the grill, and
prepared for the worst, I faced it, disintegrator pistol raised.

But I lowered the pistol at once, with a sigh of relief. The elevator
was empty. For a moment I considered. I dared not leave either of these
bodies nor the girl behind in descending the shaft. At any moment other
passengers might glide out of the tunnel to take the elevator, and give
an alarm.

So I played the beam of the pistol for an instant on the two dead
bodies. They vanished, of course, into nothingness, as did part of the
station platform. The damage to the platform, however, would not
necessarily be interpreted as evidence of a prisoner escaping.

Then I threw open the elevator gate, dragging Ngo-Lan into the car and
stifling her hysterical shrieks, pressed the button that caused it to
shoot downward. In a few moments I stepped out several thousand feet
below, into a shaft that ran toward one of the Valley Gates.

The pistol again became serviceable, this time for the destruction of
the elevator, thus blocking any possible pursuit, yet without revealing
my flight.

Ngo-Lan fought like a cat, but despite her writhing, scratching and
biting, I bound and gagged her with her own clothing, and left her lying
in the tunnel while I stepped in a car and shot toward the gate.

As the car glided swiftly along the brilliantly lit but deserted tunnel
I conversed again with Wilma through the metallic speaker of the air
ball.

"The only obstacle now," I told her, "is the massive gate at the end of
the tunnel. The gate-guard, I think, is posted both outside and inside
the gate."

"In that case, Tony," she replied, "I will shoot the ball ahead, and
blow out the gate. When you hear it bump against the gate, throw
yourself flat in the car, for an instant later I will explode it. Then
you can rush through the gate into the night. Scout ships are now
hovering above, and they will see you with their ultroscopes, though the
darkness will leave you invisible to the Hans."

       *       *       *       *       *

With this the ball shot out of the car and flashed away, down the tunnel
ahead of me. I heard a distant metallic thump, and crouched low in the
speeding car, clapping my hands to my ears. The heavy detonation which
followed, struck me like a blow, and left me gasping for breath. The car
staggered like a living thing that had been struck, then gathered speed
again and shot forward toward the gaping black hole where the gate had
been.

I brought it to a stop at the pile of debris, and climbed through this
to freedom and the night. Stumblingly I made my way out into the open,
and waited.

Behind, and far above me on the mountain peak, the lights of the city
gleamed and flashed, while the iridescent beams of countless
disintegrator ray batteries on surrounding mountain peaks, played
continuously and nervously, criss-crossing in the sky above it.

Then with a swish, a line dropped out of the sky, and a little seat
rested on the ground beside me. I climbed into it, and without further
ado was whisked up into the swooper that floated a few hundred feet
above me.

A half an hour later I was deposited in a little forest glade where the
headquarters of the Wyoming Gang were located, and was greeted with a
frantic disregard for decorum by the Deputy Boss of the Wyomings, who
rushed upon me like a whirlwind, laughing, crying and whispering
endearments all in the same breath, while I squeezed her, Wilma, my
wife, until at last she gasped for mercy.




CHAPTER XIV

The Destruction of Lo-Tan


"How did you know I had been taken to Lo-Tan as a prisoner?" I asked the
little group of Wyoming Bosses who had assembled in Wilma's tent to
greet me. "And how does it happen that our gang is away out here in the
Rocky Mountains? I had expected, after the fall of Nu-Yok, that you
would join the forest ring around Bah-Flo (Buffalo I called it in the
Twentieth Century) or the forces beleaguering Bos-Tan."

They explained that my encounter with the Han airship had been followed
carefully by several scopemen. They had seen my swooper shoot skyward
out of control, and had followed it with their telultronoscopes until it
had been caught in a gale at a high level, and wafted swiftly westward.
Ultronophone warnings had been broadcast, asking western Gangs to rescue
me if possible. Few of the Gangs west of the Alleghanies, however, had
any swoopers, and though I was frequently reported, no attempts could be
made to rescue me. Scopemen had reported my capture by the Han ground
post, and my probable incarceration in Lo-Tan.

The Rocky Mountain Gangs, in planning their campaign against Lo-Tan, had
appealed to the east for help, and Wilma had led the Wyoming veterans
westward, though the other eastern Gang had divided their aid between
the armies before Bah-Flo and Bos-Tan.

The heavy bombardment which I had heard from Lo-Tan, they told me, was
merely a test of the enemy's tactics and strength, but it accomplished
little other than to develop that the Hans had the mountains and peaks
thickly planted with rocket gunners of their own. It was almost
impossible to locate these gun posts, for they were well camouflaged
from air observation, and widely scattered; nor did they reveal their
positions when they went into action as did their ray batteries.

The Hans apparently were abandoning their rays except for air defense. I
told what I knew of the Han plans for abandoning the city, and their
escape tunnels. On the strength of this, a general council of Gang
Bosses was called. This council agreed that immediate action was
necessary, for my escape from the city probably would be suspected, and
San-Lan would be inclined to start an exodus at once.

       *       *       *       *       *

As a matter of fact, the destruction of the city presented no real
problem to us at all. Explosive air balls could be sent against any
target under a control that could not be better were their operators
riding within them, and with no risk to the operators. When a ball was
exploded on its target by the operator, or destroyed by accident, he
simply reported the fact to the supply division, and a fresh one was
placed on the jump-off, tuned to his controls.

To my own Gang, the Wyomings, the Council delegated the destruction of
the escape tunnels of the enemy. We had a comfortably located camp in a
wooded canyon, some hundred and thirty miles northeast of the city, with
about 500 men, most of whom were bayonet-gunners, 350 girls as
long-gunners and control-board operators, 91 control boards and about
250 five-foot, inertron-protected air balls, of which 200 were of the
explosive variety.

I ordered all control boards manned, taking Number One myself, and
instructed the others to follow my lead in single file, at the minimum
interval of safety, with their projectiles set for signal rather than
contact detonation.

In my mind I paid humble tribute to the ingenuity of our engineers as I
gently twisted the lever that shot my projectile vertically into the air
from the jump-off clearing some half mile away.

The control board before me was a compact contrivance about five feet
square. The center of it contained a four-foot viewplate. Whatever view
was picked up by the ultronoscope "eye" of the air ball was
automatically broadcast on an accurate tuning channel to this viewplate
by the automatic mechanism of the projectile. In turn my control board
broadcast the signals which automatically controlled the movements of
the ball.

Above and below the viewplate were the pointers and the swinging needles
which indicated the speed and angle of vertical movement, the altimeter,
the directional compass, and the horizontal speed and distance
indicators.

At my left hand was the lever by which I could set the "eye" for
penetrative, normal or varying degrees of telescopic vision, and at my
right the universally jointed stick (much like the "joy stick" of the
ancient airplanes) with its speed control button on the top, with which
the ball was directionally "pointed" and controlled.

The manipulation of these levers I had found, with a very little
practice, most instinctive and simple.

So, as I have said, I pointed my projectile straight up and let it shoot
to the height of two miles. Then I levelled it off, and shot it at full
speed (about 500 miles an hour with no allowance for air currents) in a
general southwesterly direction, while I eased my controls until I
brought in the telescopic view of Lo-Tan. I centered the picture of the
city on the crossed hairlines in the middle of my viewpoint, and watched
its image grow.

       *       *       *       *       *

In about fifteen minutes the "string" of air balls was before the city,
and speaking in my ultrophone I gave the order to halt, while I swung
the scope control to the penetrative setting and let my "eye" rove
slowly back and forth through the walls of the city, hunting for a spot
from which I might get my bearings. At last, after many penetrations, I
managed to bring in a view of the head of the shaft at the bottom of
which I knew the tunnels were located, and saw that we were none too
soon, for all the corridors leading toward this shaft were packed with
Hans waiting their turn to descend.

Slowly I let my "eye" retreat down one of these corridors until I
"pulled it out" through the outer wall of the city. There I held the
spot on the crossed hairlines and ordered Number Two Operator to my
control board, where I pointed out to her the exact spot where I desired
a breach in the wall. Returning to her own board, she withdrew her ball
from the "string," and focussing on this spot in the wall, eased her
projectile into contact with it and detonated.

The atomic force of the explosion shattered a vast section of the wall,
and for the moment I feared I had balked my own game by not having
provided a less powerful projectile.

After some fumbling, however, I was able to maneuver my ball through a
gap in the debris and find the corridor I was seeking. Down this
corridor I sent it at the speed of a Twentieth Century bullet, (this is
to say, about half speed) to spare myself the sight of the slaughter as
it cut a swath down the closely packed column of the enemy. If there
were any it did not kill, I knew they would be taken care of by the
other balls in the string which would follow.

I had to slow it up, however, near the head of the shaft to take my
bearings; and a sea of evil faces, contorted with livid terror, looked
at me from my viewplate. But not even the terror could conceal the hate
in those faces, and there arose in my mind the picture of their long
centuries of ruthless cruelty to my race, and the hopelessness of
changing the tigerish nature of these Hans. So I steeled myself, and
drove the ball again and again into that sea of faces, until I had
cleared the station platform of any living enemy, and sent the survivors
crushing their way madly along the corridors away from it. There was
blinding flash or two on my viewplate as some Han officer tried his ray
pistol on my projectile, but that was all, except that he must have
disintegrated many of his fellows, for our balls were sheathed in
inertron, and suffered no damage themselves.

       *       *       *       *       *

Cautioning my unit to follow carefully, I pushed my control lever all
the way forward until my "eye" pointed down, and there appeared on my
viewplate the smooth cylindrical interior of the shaft, fading down
toward the base of the mountain, and like a tiny speck, far, far down,
was the car, descending with its last load.

I dropped my ball on it, battering it down to the bottom of the shaft,
and with hammer-like blows flattening the wreckage, that I might squeeze
the ball out of the shaft at the lower station.

It emerged into the great vaulted excavation, capable of holding a
thousand or more persons, from which the various escape tunnels
radiated. Down these tunnels the last remnants of a crowd of fugitives
were disappearing, while red-coated soldiers guided the traffic and
suppressed disorder with the threat of their spears, and the occasional
flourish of a ray pistol.

As I floated my ball out into the middle of the artificial cavern I
could see them stagger back in terror. Again the blinding flashes of a
few ray pistols, and instantaneous borings of the rays into the walls.
The red coats nearest the escape tunnels fled down them in panic. Those
whose escape I blocked dropped their weapons and shrank back against the
smooth, iridescent green walls.

I marshalled the rest of my string carefully into the cavern, and
counted the tunnel entrances, slowly swinging my "eye" around the
semicircle of them. There were 26 corridors diverging to the north and
west. I decided to send three balls down each, leave 12 in the cavern,
then detonate them all at once.

Assigning my operators to their corridors, I ordered intervals of five
miles between them, and taking the lead down the first corridor, I
ordered "go."

Soon my ball overtook the stream of fugitives, smashing them down
despite ray pistols and even rockets that were shot against it. On and
on I drove it, time and again battering it through detachments of
fleeing Hans, while the distance register on my board climbed to ten,
twenty, fifty miles.

Then I called a halt, and suspended my previous orders. I had had no
idea that the Hans had bored these tunnels for such distances under the
surface of the ground as this. It would be necessary to trace them to
their ends and locate their new underground cities in which they
expected to establish themselves, and in which many had established
themselves by now, no doubt.

Fifty miles of air in these corridors, I thought, ought to prove a
pretty good cushion against the shock of detonation in the cavern. So I
ordered detonation of the twelve balls we had left behind. As I
expected, there was little effect from it so far out in the tunnels.

But from our scopemen who were covering the city from the outside, I
learned that the effects of the explosion on the mountain were terrific;
far more than I had dared to hope for.

       *       *       *       *       *

The mountain itself burst asunder in several spots, throwing out
thousands of tons of earth and rock. One-half the city itself tore loose
and slid downward, lost in the debris of the avalanche of which it was a
part. The remainder, wrenched and convulsed like a living thing in
agony, cracked, crumbled and split, towers tumbling down and great
fissures appearing in its walls. Its power plant and electro machinery
went out of commission. Fifteen of its scout ships hovering in the air
directly above, robbed of the power broadcast and their repeller beams
disappearing, crashed down into the ruins.

But out in the escape tunnels, we continued our explorations, now sure
that no warnings could be broadcast to the tunnel exits, and mowed down
contingent after contingent of the hated yellow men.

My register showed seventy-five miles before I came to the end of the
tunnel, and drove my ball out into a vast underground city of great,
brilliantly illuminated corridors, some of them hundreds of feet high
and wide. The architectural scheme was one of lace-like structures of
curving lines and of indescribable beauty.

Word had reached us now of the destruction of the city itself, so that
no necessity existed for destroying the escape tunnels. In consequence,
I ordered the two operators, who were following me, to send their balls
out into this underground city, seeking the shaft which the Hans were
sure to have as a secret exit to the surface of the earth above.

But at this juncture events of transcending importance interrupted my
plans for a thorough exploration of these new subterranean cities of the
Hans. I detonated my projectile at once and ordered all of the operators
to do so, and to tune in instantly on new ones. That we wrecked most of
these new cities I now know, but of course at the time we were in the
dark as to how much damage we caused, since our viewplates naturally
went dead when we detonated our projectiles.




CHAPTER XV

The Counter-Attack


The news which caused me to change my plans was grave enough. As I have
explained, the American lines lay roughly to the east and the south of
the city in the mountains. My own Gang held the northern flank of the
east line. To the south of us was the Colorado Union, a force of 5,000
men and about 2,000 girls recruited from about fifteen Gangs. They were
a splendid organization, well disciplined and equipped. Their posts,
rather widely distributed, occupied the mountain tops and other points
of advantage to a distance of about a hundred and fifty miles to the
south. There the line turned east, and was held by the Gangs which had
come up from the south. Now, simultaneously with the reports from my
scouts that a large Han land force was working its way down on us from
the north, and threatening to outflank us, came word from Jim Hallwell,
Big Boss of the Colorado Union and the commander in chief of our army,
that another large Han force was to the southwest of our western flank.
And in addition, it seemed, most of the Han military forces at Lo-Tan
had been moved out of the city and advanced toward our lines before our
air-ball attack.

The situation would not have been in the least alarming if the Hans had
had no better arms to fight with than their disintegrator rays, which
naturally revealed the locations of their generators the second the
visible beams went into play, and their airships, which we had learned
how to bring down, first from the air, and now from the ground, through
ultrono-controlled projectiles.

But the Hans had learned their lesson from us by this time. Their
electrono-chemists had devised atomic projectiles, rocket-propelled,
very much like our own, which could be launched in a terrific barrage
without revealing the locations of their batteries, and they had
equipped their infantry with rocket guns not dissimilar to ours. This
division of their army had been expanded by general conscription. So far
as ordnance was concerned, we had little advantage over them; although
tactically we were still far superior, for our jumping belts enabled our
men and girls to scale otherwise inaccessible heights, conceal
themselves readily in the upper branches of the giant trees, and gave
them a general all around mobility, the enemy could not hope to equal.

We had the advantage too, in our ultronophones and scopes, in a field of
energy which the Hans could not penetrate, while we could cut in on
their electrono or (as I would have called it in the Twentieth Century)
radio broadcasts.

       *       *       *       *       *

Later reports showed that there were no less than 10,000 Hans in the
force to our north, which evidently was equipped with a portable power
broadcast, sufficient for communication purposes and the local operation
of small scoutships, painted a green which made them difficult to
distinguish against the mountain and forest backgrounds. These ships
just skimmed the surface of the terrain, hardly ever outlining
themselves against the sky. Moreover, the Han commanders wisely had
refrained from massing their forces. They had developed over a very wide
and deep front, in small units, well scattered, which were driving down
the parallel valleys and canyons like spearheads. Their communications
were working well too, for our scouts reported their advance as well
restrained, and maintaining a perfect front as between valley and
valley, with a secondary line of heavy batteries, moved by small
airships from peak to peak, following along the ridges somewhat behind
the valley forces.

Hallwell had determined to withdraw our southern wing, pivoting it back
to face the outflanking Han force on that side, which had already worked
its way well down in back of our line.

In the ultronophone council which we held at once, each Boss tuning in
on Hallwell's band, though remaining with his unit, Wilma and I pleaded
for a vigorous attack rather than a defensive maneuver. Our suggestion
was to divide the American forces into three divisions, with all the
swoopers forming a special reserve, and to advance with a rush on the
three Han forces behind a rolling barrage.

But the best we could do was to secure permission to make such an attack
with our Wyomings, if we wished, to serve as a diversion while the lines
were reforming. And two of the southern Gangs on the west flank, which
were eager to get at the enemy, received the same permission.

The rest of the army fumed at the caution of the council, but it spoke
well for their discipline that they did not take things in their own
hands, for in the eyes of those forest men who had been hounded for
centuries, the chance to spring at the throats of the Hans outweighed
all other considerations.

So, as the council signed off, Wilma and I turned to the eager faces
that surrounded us, and issued our orders.

       *       *       *       *       *

In a moment the air was filled with leaping figures as the men and girls
shot away over the tree tops and up the mountain sides in the deployment
movement.

A group of our engineers threw themselves headlong toward a cave across
the valley, where they had rigged out a powerful electrono plant
operating from atomic energy. And a few moments later the little
portable receiver, the Intelligence Boss used to pick up the enemy
messages, began to emit such ear-splitting squeals and howls that he
shut it off. Our heterodyne or "radio-scrambling" broadcast had gone
into operation, emitting impulses of constantly varying wave-length over
the full broadcast range and heterodyning the Han communications into
futility.

In a little while our scouts came leaping down the valley from the
north, and our air balls now were hovering above the Han lines,
operators at the control boards near-by painstakingly picking up the
pictures of the Han squads struggling down the valleys with their
comparatively clumsy weapons.

As fast as the air-ball scopes picked out these squads, their operators,
each of whom was in ultronophone communication with a girl long-gunner
at some spot in our line, would inform her of the location of the enemy
unit, and the latter, after a bit of mathematical calculation, would
send a rocket into the air which would come roaring down on, or very
near that unit, and wipe it out.

But for all of that, the number of the Han squads were too much for us.
And for every squad we destroyed, fifty advanced.

And though the lines were still several miles apart, in most places, and
in some cases with mountain ridges intervening, the Han fire control
began to sense the general location of our posts, and things became more
serious as their rockets too began to hiss down and explode here and
there in our lines, not infrequently killing or maiming one or more of
our girls.

The men, our bayonet-gunners, had not as yet suffered, for they were
well in advance of the girls, under strict orders to shoot no rockets
nor in any way reveal their positions; so the Han rockets were going
over their heads.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Hans in the valleys now were shooting diagonal barrages up the
slopes toward the ridges, where they suspected we would be most strongly
posted, thus making a cross-fire up the two sides of a ridge, while
their heavy batteries, somewhat in the rear, shot straight along the
tops of the ridges. But their valley forces were getting out of
alignment a bit by now, owing to our heterodyne operations.

I ordered our swoopers, of which we had five, to sweep along above these
ridges and destroy the Han batteries.

Up in the higher levels where they were located, the Hans had little
cover. A few of their small rep-ray ships rose to meet our swoopers, but
were battered down. One swooper they brought to earth with a
disintegrator ray beam, by creating a vacuum beneath it, but they did it
no serious damage, for its fall was a light one. Subsequently it did
tremendous damage, cleaning off an entire ridge.

Another swooper ran into a catastrophe that had one chance in a million
of occurring. It hit a heavy Han rocket nose to nose. Inertron sheathing
and all, it was blown into powder.

But the others accomplished their jobs excellently. Small, two-man
ships, streaking straight at the Hans at between 600 and 700 miles an
hour, they could not be hit except by sheer amazing luck, and they
showered their tiny but powerful bombs everywhere as they went.

At the same instant I ordered the girls to cease sharp-shooting, and lay
their barrages down in the valleys, with their long-guns set for maximum
automatic advance, and to feed the reservoirs as fast as possible, while
the bayonet-gunners leaped along close behind this barrage.

Then, with a Twentieth Century urge to see with my own eyes rather than
through a viewplate, and to take part in the action, I turned command
over to Wilma and leaped away, fifty feet a jump, up the valley, toward
the distant flashes and rolling thunder.




CHAPTER XVI

Victory


I had gone five miles, and had paused for a moment, half way up the
slope of the valley to get my bearings, when a figure came hurtling
through the air from behind, and landed lightly at my side. It was
Wilma.

"I put Bill Hearn in command and followed, Tony. I won't let you go into
that alone. If you die, I do, too. Now don't argue, dear. I'm
determined."

So together we leaped northward again toward the battle. And after a bit
we pulled up close behind the barrage.

Great, blinding flashes, like a continuous wall of gigantic fireworks,
receded up the valley ahead of us, sweeping ahead of it a seething,
tossing mass of debris that seemed composed of all nature, tons of
earth, rocks and trees. Ever and anon vast sections of the mountain
sides would loosen and slide into the valley.

And, leaping close behind this barrage, with a reckless skill and
courage that amazed me, our bayonet-gunners appeared in a continuous
series of flashing pictures, outlined in midleap against the wall of
fire.

I would not have believed it possible for such a barrage to pass over
any of the enemy and leave them unscathed. But it did. For the Hans,
operating small disintegrator beams from local or field broadcasts,
frantically bored deep, slanting holes in the earth as the fiery tides
of explosions rolled up the valleys toward them, and into these probably
half of their units were able to throw themselves and escape
destruction.

But dazed and staggering they came forth again only to meet death from
the terrible, ripping, slashing, cleaving weapons in the hands of our
leaping bayonet-gunners.

Thrust! Cut! Crunch! Slice! Thrust! Up and down with vicious, tireless,
flashing speed, swung the bayonets and ax-bladed butts of the American
gunners as they leaped and dodged, ever forward, toward new opponents.

Weakly and ineffectually the red-coated Han soldiery thrust at them with
spears, flailing with their short-swords and knives, or whipping about
their ray pistols. The forest men were too powerful, too fast in their
remorselessly efficient movement.

With a shout of unholy joy, I gripped a bayonet-gun from the hands of a
gunner whose leg had been whisked out of existence beneath him by a
pistol ray, and leaped forward into the fight, launching myself at a
red-coated officer who was just stepping out of a "worm hole."

Like a shriek of the Valkyrie, Wilma's battle cry rang in my ear as she,
too, shot herself like a rocket at a red-coated figure.

I thrust with every ounce of my strength. The Han officer, grinning
wickedly as he tried to raise the muzzle of his pistol, threw himself
backward as my bayonet ripped the air under his nose. But his grin
turned instantly to sickened surprise as the up-cleaving ax-blade on the
butt of my weapon caught him in the groin, half bisecting him.

And from the corner of my eye I saw Wilma bury her bayonet in her
opponent, screaming in ecstatic joy.

       *       *       *       *       *

And so, in a matter of seconds, we found ourselves in the front rank,
thrusting, cutting, dodging, leaping along behind that blinding and
deafening barrage in a veritable whirlwind of fury, until it seemed to
me that we were exulting in a consciousness of excelling even that tide
of destruction in our merciless efficiency.

At last we became aware, in but a vague sort of way at first, that no
more red-coats were rising up out of the ground to go down again before
our whirling, swinging weapons. Gradually we paused, looking about in
wonder. Then the barrage ceased, and the sudden absence of the deafening
roll, and the wall of light, in themselves, deafened and blinded us.

I leaped weakly toward the spot where hazily I spied Wilma, now drooping
and swaying on her feet, supported as she was by her jumping belt, and
caught her in my arms, just as she was sinking gently to the ground.

All around us the weary warriors, crimsoned now with the blood of the
enemy, were sinking to the ground in exhaustion. And as I too, sank
down, clutching in my arms the unconscious form of my warrior wife, I
began to hear, through my helmet phones, the exultant report of
headquarters.

Our attack had swept straight through the enemy's sector, completely
annihilating everything except a few hundred of his troops on either
flank. And these, in panic and terror, had scattered wildly in flight.
We had wiped out a force more than ten times our own number. The right
flank of the American army was saved. And already the Colorado Union,
from behind us, was leaping around in a great circling movement, closing
in on the Han force that was advancing from the ruins of Lo-Tan.

Far away, to the southwest, the southern Gangs, reinforced in the end
by the bulk of our left wing, had struck straight at the enveloping Han
force shattering it like a thunderbolt, and at present were busily
hunting down and destroying its scattered remnants.

But before the Colorado Union could complete the destruction of the
central division of the enemy, the despairing Hans saved them the
trouble. Company after company of them, knowing no escape was possible,
lined up in the forest glades and valleys, while their officers swept
them out of existence by the hundreds with their ray pistols, which they
then turned on themselves.

And so the fall of Lo-Tan was accomplished. Somewhere in the seething
activities of these few days, San-Lan, the "Heaven-Born," Emperor of the
Hans in America, perished, for he was heard of never again, and the
unified action of the Hans vanished with him, though it was several
years before one by one their remaining cities were destroyed and their
populations hunted down, thus completing the reclamation of America and
inaugurating the most glorious and noble era of scientific civilization
in the history of the American race.

       *       *       *       *       *

As I look back on those emotional and violent years from my present
vantage point of declining existence in an age of peace and good will
toward all mankind, they do seem savage and repellent.

Then there flashes into my memory the picture of Wilma (now long since
gone to her rest) as, screaming in an utter abandon of merciless fury,
she threw herself recklessly, exultantly into the thick of that wild,
relentless slaughter; and my mind can find nothing savage nor repellent
about her.

If I, product of the relatively peaceful Twentieth Century, was so
completely carried away by the fury of that war, intensified by
centuries of unspeakable cruelty on the part of the yellow men who were
mentally gods and morally beasts, shall I be shocked at the
"bloodthirstiness" of a mate who was, after all, but a normal girl of
that day, and who, girl as she was, never for a moment faltered in the
high courage with which she threw herself into that combat, responding
to the passionate urge for freedom in her blood that not five centuries
of inhuman persecution could subdue?

Had the Hans been raging tigers, or slimy, loathsome reptiles, would we
have spared them? And when in their centuries of degradation they had
destroyed the souls within themselves, were they in any way superior to
tigers or snakes? To have extended mercy would have been suicide.

In the years that followed, Wilma and I travelled nearly every nation on
the earth which had succeeded in throwing off the Han domination,
spurred on by our success in America, and I never knew her to show to
the men or women of any race anything but the utmost of sympathetic
courtesy and consideration, whether they were the noble brown-skinned
Caucasians of India, the sturdy Balkanites of Southern Europe, or the
simple, spiritual Blacks of Africa, today one of the leading races of
the world, although in the Twentieth Century we regarded them as
inferior. This charity and gentleness of hers did not fail even in our
contacts with the non-Han Mongolians of Japan and the coast provinces of
China.

But that monstrosity among the races of men which originated as a hybrid
somewhere in the dark fastnesses of interior Asia, and spread itself
like an inhuman yellow blight over the face of the globe--for that race,
like all of us, she felt nothing but horror and the irresistible urge to
extermination.

       *       *       *       *       *

Latterly, our historians and anthropologists find much support for the
theory that the Hans sprang from a genus of human-like creatures that
may have arrived on this earth with a small planet (or large meteor)
which is known to have crashed in interior Asia late in the Twentieth
Century, causing certain permanent changes in the earth's orbit and
climate.

Geological convulsions blocked this section off from the rest of the
world for many years. And it is a historical fact that Chinese
scientists, driving their explorations into it at a somewhat later
period, met the first wave of the on-coming Hans.

The theory is that these creatures (and certain queer skeletons have
been found in the "Asiatic Bowl") with a mental superdevelopment, but a
vacuum in place of that intangible something we call a soul, mated
forcibly with the Tibetans, thereby strengthening their physical
structure to almost the human normal, adapting themselves to earthly
speech and habits, and in some strange manner intensifying even further
their mental powers.

Or, to put it the other way around. These Tibetans, through the
injection of this unearthly blood, deteriorated slightly physically,
lost the "soul" parts of their nature entirely, and developed abnormally
efficient intellects.

However, through the centuries that followed, as the Hans spread over
the face of the earth, this unearthly strain in them not only became
more dilute, but lost its potency; and in the end, the poison of it
submerged the power of it, and earth's mankind came again into
possession of its inheritance.

How all this may be, I do not know. It is merely a hypothesis over which
the learned men of today quarrel.

       *       *       *       *       *

But I do know that there was something inhuman about these Hans. And I
had many months of intimate contact with them, and with their Emperor in
America. I can vouch for the fact that even in his most friendly and
human moments, there was an inhumanity, or perhaps "unhumanity" about
him that aroused in me that urge to kill.

But whether or not there was in these people blood from outside this
planet, the fact remains that they have been exterminated, that a truly
human civilization reigns once more--and that I am now a very tired old
man, waiting with no regrets for the call which will take me to another
existence.

There, it is my hope and my conviction that my courageous mate of those
bloody days waits for me with loving arms.


THE END




Transcriber's Note:

    In this text the two prefixes _ultro-_ and _ultrono-_ have been
    applied inconsistently to much of the future technology. These
    discrepancies remain as printed.





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